PA Governor Bans State Apparel, Laundry Contracts With Sweatshop Firms

March 23, 2004
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed an executive order banning commonwealth agencies under his control from contracting with companies that employ sweatshop labor to make or launder apparel.

"The overwhelming majority of garment workers in the U.S. are immigrant women who typically toil 60 to 80 hours a week without minimum wage or overtime pay, and many of these workers labor in dangerous conditions that include blocked fire exits, unsanitary bathrooms and poor ventilation," the governor said as he signed the executive order during the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's 36th constitutional convention.

"There is no justifiable reason why the government should purchase goods from any company that violates our wage and workplace safety laws, and as of today, we will no longer do apparel or laundry business with such firms," Rendell added. The governor worked with the AFL-CIO and UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers, to craft the order.

The executive order precludes commonwealth agencies from entering into a contract for apparel or apparel-laundering services until the vendor certifies that every employee engaged in making or laundering apparel is not working under sweatshop conditions. To qualify, companies must pay workers "at an hourly rate at least equivalent to the poverty threshold" and provide "working conditions that meet or exceed the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions governing forced labor, child labor, payment of wages, hours of work, occupational health, occupational safety and nondiscrimination."

The order also requires firms that subcontract apparel or laundering services to specify that their subcontractors also meet the order's requirements. The order does not apply to apparel manufacturing or laundering by inmates in the state corrections system.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than half the country's 22,000 sewing shops violate minimum wage and overtime laws, and surveys show that 75 percent of U.S. garment shops violate safety and health laws.

"March 25 marks the 93rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, which killed 146 people, most of them young, immigrant women working in sweatshop conditions," said Rendell. "The order I signed will help us as we continue to move toward the eventual elimination of those kinds of working conditions."

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