July 25, 2021

Maine citizens must take a stand against sweatshops

An exciting and invigorating bill has been introduced into the state Legislature this session. The Maine Ethical Purchasing bill (LD 1748) is the result of a four-year grass-roots campaign that has created a groundswell of Maine citizens speaking out against the horrors and indecency of sweatshops.

The exhilarating part to this bill is that the movement began here, when in June 1997, Bangor proudly became the first city in the United States to adopt a “Clean Clothes” resolution that took a firm stance against the savage workplace conditions that sweatshops produce. These conditions include below subsistence wages, forced overtime, denial of basic human rights, unsanitary working conditions and threats of bodily harm. In addition, sweatshops sustain low wages in Maine and everywhere else by providing clothing to consumers for low costs.

In addition, sweatshops in such areas as Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean have drawn thousands of jobs from Maine, depressing wages for Maine workers who have kept their jobs and thus detrimentally affecting the economy of the state. Finally, sweatshops in such areas as Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean have drawn more than 7,500 jobs from Maine overseas, hurting the economy of this state.

By encouraging both the retailers who sell clothes and the consumers who buy them, all Bangor citizens participated in taking a stand against these shops of horror, and with this resolution folks further defined how they believed life should be lived. The Bangor Clean Clothes resolution upholds dignity, human rights, social and economic justice, values established in the international codes of corporate conduct.

With numerous Bangor retailers and consumer groups leading the way, information and awareness about sweatshops became available statewide. Thus the beginning movement toward LD 1748, a state government ethical purchasing bill, ensued. Towns such as Orono and Biddeford went clean, as each community’s citizens put its desire to eradicate sweatshops onto paper in a public statement. Numerous businesses signed on to help consumer groups work toward ending sweatshop indecencies. There are now more than 30 Maine businesses and organizations, including clothing retailers, radio stations, churches and schools that have joined together to question the morality of sweatshops and push for their concerns to be acknowledged at a state level.

In response to this statewide grass-roots anti-sweatshop movement, the state of Maine appointed a commission to study the issue. The membership of this commission represented a broad base of concern as representatives from retail, Maine state purchasing , retail business, labor, the general public, industry, manufacturing, human rights, Republican and Democratic senators and representatives sat down to develop recommendations for a bill to address the public’s desire to take a stand against sweatshop conditions.

In a unanimous vote, this diverse commission responded to Maine citizens’ concerns by recommending that the Maine Ethical Purchasing Bill, LD 1748, become the vehicle in which the fight against sweatshops would move forward onto a state level.

Passage of this bill would allow the state to use its significant purchasing power to support jobs with dignity for sweatshop workers. It would help vendors become more accountable for the products they purchase, and also work toward leveling the playing field for Maine businesses and workers who should not have to compete for state contracts against corporations that abuse sweatshop and child labor.

The bill asks that vendors to the state of Maine sign an affidavit that, to the best of their knowledge, the products that they are selling to the state are made according to basic human rights standards. The companies will be asked to make a good faith effort to find if their products were made under sweatshop conditions.

But the final push will need to come from you, to help LD 1748 to make its final leap from being just a bill to becoming a law unlike any other in the country. Will Maine again, as it did in June 1997, with the Bangor City Council Clean Clothes resolution, provide ethical leadership for our nation regarding sweatshop abuses? Will Maine businesses and consumers once again provide the model of moral leadership that those involved in sweatshops so sorely lack? Maine is moving forward by supporting decent living wages, safe sanitary working conditions, keeping Maine jobs in Maine. Show your support for ethical purchasing; contact your legislators today to encourage them to vote for passage of LD 1748.

Contact the Web site www.pica.ws, that will give you more information about this bill and ways you can become further involved. We need your voice to be heard. Once again, Maine is on the move toward equity and compassion for all individuals, transporting the way life should be well beyond her borders.

This commentary was written by Katherine C. Edes and Dale Saucier, graduate students in social work at the University of Maine at Orono and members of Peace through Inter- American Community Action (PICA)

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