The mission of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium is to end public purchasing from sweatshops. We strive to align public spending with respect for workers’ rights in global apparel supply chains. We pursue this mission by convening public procurement officials and labor advocates to create demand for decent working conditions and worker-led monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to sustain them.
About Sweatfree Procurement
Decades of research shows widespread human rights and labor rights violations in the global apparel industry. Workers are often paid poverty wages for excessive hours of work in unsafe and abusive conditions and retaliated against for attempting to unionize. Since 2005, two thousand workers have been killed in fires and building collapses, and three of the four most fatal disasters in the industry’s history occurred. More than 250 workers died in the 2012 fire at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan; 113 workers died in the 2012 fire at Tazreen Fashions in Bangladesh; and at least 1,132 workers died in the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. The previous most fatal incident in apparel industry history was the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that killed 146 workers in New York City. Since auditing against codes of conduct emerged as common practice in the industry, observers have reached a consensus that the private, voluntary approach is unable to protect workers’ rights and safety. Decisions by private and public buyers, particularly regarding prices paid and terms required, too often pressure management to cut labor costs and thereby contribute to sweatshop working conditions. In particular, prices paid to suppliers tend to fall short of the level required to pay fair wages and afford decent conditions, and tendencies of short lead times and volatile order placement pressure supplier management to force employees to work overtime.1 A 2019 study documented that prices paid for apparel imported into the United States and European Union have fallen since 1998, and lead times were reduced more than 8% in the 2010s.2
Why Public Procurement?
Public procurement is a powerful economic force. In 2018, the U.S. federal and state governments spent more than $3 trillion.3 Best practices in public procurement support fair and open competition while taking seriously the stewardship of taxpayer money and moral obligation to minimize negative impacts of their purchasing decisions on people and the planet. Without clearly defined and required standards for the production of publicly-contracted apparel, unscrupulous contractors can gain an unfair price advantage when bidding or proposing on public contract solicitations by buying from sweatshops with the lowest cost labor in the least regulated locations. To safeguard fair and open competition based on ethical standards that respect workers’ rights, a growing number of public entities in the United States are committing to buying apparel made in “Sweatfree” conditions.
“Sweatfree” at its core means that workers who make the products enjoy working conditions and wages that allow them to maintain a decent standard of living. The Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium also recognizes that all workers have the right to fully exercise their human and labor rights, including freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. While intended to ensure that tax dollars are not spent on products made in sweatshop conditions, sweatfree procurement can also help improve working conditions, strengthen working families and their communities, and create a more secure world. Sweatfree procurement is both a moral imperative and an economic tool for the common good.
A significant number of U.S. public entities have committed to implementing sweatfree procurement. As it grows, the market for decent working conditions will create more qualified vendors and better workplaces for increasing numbers of workers. The rules of competition will no longer favor businesses that produce the cheapest possible goods at the expense of workers, but those that provide good value without unlawfully sacrificing humane working conditions and disregarding workers' human and labor rights.
What We Do
The Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium improves working conditions in apparel supply chains by leveraging the power of public procurement. Organized citizens demand that their representatives spend taxpayer dollars on apparel produced in decent working conditions. The SPC:
Coordinates public procurement offices and global apparel industry experts who seek to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not spent on products made in sweatshops.
Provides resources, information, and forums for collaboration in order to improve and implement procurement policies designed to eliminate sweatshop labor from supply chains.
Facilitates independent monitoring of consortium member suppliers that is designed to sustain sweatfree working conditions by responding to worker concerns with appropriate investigations and prioritizing remediation of standard violations.4
The Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of public procurement officials and experts on labor in the global apparel industry. The Board develops and oversees implementation of policy, promotes the mission of the Consortium, and may delegate responsibility of operations to staff and committees.
The Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium is a membership organization comprised of representatives of public procurement offices and labor experts. The Board of Directors may grant public membership to any city, county, state, federal government agency that procures apparel or other relevant products or services, supports the Consortium mission, pays the annual dues as set by the Board, and meets any additional membership requirements as determined by the Board. The Board may grant nonprofit membership to nonprofit entities that meet any membership requirements as determined by the Board.
Annual Report and Annual Membership Meeting
You can scroll down here to find the presentations from our annual membership meetings.
We invite you to learn more about the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium. Peruse this website and feel free to contact us.
1. For more on the impacts of these trends in purchasing practices on workers in global apparel supply chains, see: Piore, M. (1997). The economics of sweatshops. In A. Ross (Ed.), No sweat: Fashion, free trade, and the rights of garment workers (pp. 135–142). New York: Verso; Locke, R. (2013). The promise and limits of private power: Promoting labor standards in a global economy. New York: Cambridge University Press; Anner, M., Bair, J., & Blasi, J. (2013). Toward joint liability in global supply chains: Addressing the root causes of labor violations in international subcontracting networks. International Labor Law & Policy Journal, 35(1), 1–43; Taplin 2014; Anner, M. (2019). Squeezing workers’ rights in global supply chains: Purchasing practices in the bangladesh garment export sector in comparative perspective. Review of International Political Economy, , 1-28.
2. Anner 2019, Ibid
3. Bureau of Economic Analysis Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product. Last Revised: July 26, 2019 (accessed 15 August 2019). Note that the figure includes expenditures and investment, which are not reported separately.
4. Independent monitors are organizations with expertise in monitoring factory working conditions that are not owned or controlled in whole or in part by, nor obtains any revenue from, any contractor or other entity that derives income from the sale of any product or service covered by a sweatfree purchasing policy.