No sweat

By Amelia DeVivo
The Rev. Norm Thomas reads from the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Next to him are state Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, (L), and Dia Pearce (R).

Rally at Capitol seeks to draw attention to state-supported sweatshops.

Members of the group Sweatfree Michigan rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday against taxpayer support of sweatshops. The group collected over 1,000 postcards addressed to Gov. Jennifer Granholm calling for local and national efforts to end public purchasing of state employee uniforms from sweatshops.

“Standing up for your rights is difficult, especially when your job is on the line. I just hope we’ll have the support of Gov. Granholm, “ Dia Pearce, political director for UNITEHERE, a national labor union dedicated to improving working conditions, said.

According to SweatFree Communities, one of the leading state-sponsored culprits of worker abuse is the uniform industry. The vast majority of public service uniforms are produced in foreign sweatshops and purchased with taxpayers’ money.

Michigan contracts the Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company, the Fechheimer Brothers Company, and Lion Apparel, which all import clothing and textiles from sweatshops in Honduras, Pakistan, and China, respectively. Employees of the state Department of Natural Resources and the state police, according to the group, wear uniforms from these companies.

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment,” state Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mt. Clemens, said at the rally, reading part of Article 23 of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights.

Miller was just one of many participating in a forum sponsored by SweatFree Michigan, a coalition of 20 Michigan faith, labor, student and human rights organizations, which advocate ethical consumerism at the local and state levels.

“As our economy gets worse, I fear our dependence on sweatshops will increase,” Pearce said.

The sweatshop dependence cited by Pearce refers to the heavy reliance of consumers on the apparel industry’s ability to manufacture cheap textile exports — because minorities in Third World countries manufacture the apparel, largely.

As explained in a recent report compiled by the national network, SweatFree Communities, in order to maintain the competitive edge, sweatshops worldwide engage in cutting expenses by “forcing employees to work harder for less, resulting in poverty wages, forced overtime and dangerous working conditions.”

Some of the practices used by sweat shops, according to the report, include child labor, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, imposed pregnancy testing, and the suppression of free speech.