The Brattleboro Reformer reports that "an idea that started in a classroom at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) got a step closer to becoming a Vermont law" on Thursday, March 13th. The idea, now known as House Bill 338, "requires the state to work toward ensuring that all apparel purchases come from sweatshop-free factories." The idea for the bill was originally hatched in a special social studies class by BUHS students who are members of the Child Labor Education and Action Project or CLEA. Apparently "there was so much enthusiasm for the idea that it was taken to the high school board, which adopted it and required BUHS to seek out uniforms that were manufactured in factories that protect the human rights of the workers." Then "last year, Rep. Sarah Edwards, P-Brattleboro, heard about the movement and contacted the students about the work they were doing." The students and Rep. Edwards worked together and during the 2007 session, "the bill was introduced but never made it out of committee." Notably, "if the bill is signed by the governor later this year, purchases of uniforms for corrections workers, state police and park rangers would have to come from suppliers who certify that the goods were produced in factories that comply with U.S. workplace laws." In addition, "the commissioner of buildings and general services would have to report to the Legislature every year on the compliance of the rules."
The bill is expected to be approved by the House today. If it passes, "it will move over to the Senate Government Operations Committee."
Lawmakers near ban on sweatshop purchases
The Times Argus reports that "Vermont is on track to become the seventh state in the country to ban the government purchase of clothing and other materials that are manufactured in overseas sweatshops." Indeed, on Wednesday, members of the school's Child Labor Education and Action Project saw their proposal pass the Senate Government Operations Committee in a 5-0 vote." The proposal "is expected to easily be approved by the full Senate in less than a week before going to Gov. James Douglas for his signature."
Currently, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California are the only states that require "clothing and textiles – ranging from State Police uniforms to towels and sheets for prisoners – be manufactured in worker-friendly environments."
Group Links Sweatshops to Vermont
The Times Argus reports that according to SweatFree Communities, a nationwide organization that works with communities to end taxpayer support for sweatshops, "at least three companies that contract with the state of Vermont for clothes and other materials are linked to overseas sweatshops with poor human rights records." Those companies include Bob Barker Co., Rocky Brands, Inc., and and Longhorn Screen Printing.
According to SweatFree Communities, Bob Barker Co., a North Carolina business that supplies Vermont with corrections uniforms, "has been linked to a Bangladesh factory that caught fire in February 2006." The fire killed 300 workers, who were mostly teenage girls." Other anti-sweatshop groups have reported "forced overtime, seven-day work weeks, low wages and physical abuse" at the factory. Notably, Bob Barker Co. "has denied any link to the Bangladesh factory." Activists have also linked Rocky Brands, which supplies the state with boots and shoes, to "alleged sweatshops in China, Mexico and Honduras, including one factory where thousands of workers went on strike in January claiming that the factory owners had embezzled their paychecks for the last six years."
In response to the findings, Robin Orr, director of internal services at the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, said that "the state never considered if its contractors are linked to sweatshops, but is taking this information very seriously."