WASHINGTON — Government purchases from some factories manufacturing employee uniforms could inadvertently use tax dollars to support sweatshops, according to a report released today by SweatFree Communities, a network of U.S. antisweatshop campaigns affiliated with the union UNITE HERE.
The report charges that public entities have not taken enough responsibility for where they buy uniforms. It interviewed workers in nine countries employed by eight different companies. The report includes a list of alleged violations in factories, such as underage workers, illegally low wages, forced overtime, excessively long hours, forced pregnancy testing, limited freedom of speech and association and verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
“The report shows how governments inadvertently use tax dollars to increase the downward pressure on labor rights, wages and working conditions, hastening a global race to the bottom which is costing U.S. manufacturing and service workers their jobs and impoverishing local communities,” according to SweatFree Communities.
One primary factor in the problem, the report said, is the practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. Low-bid awards “may encourage contractors to economize on labor costs in order to provide cheap products,” the report said.
There are a growing number of public entities that have decided to buy uniforms from sweatshop-free manufacturers, the report said. Among those most active were Maine, New York State, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co., which makes Dickies brand apparel, was one of nine companies named in the report. The study, based on mostly anecdotal evidence from workers, alleges that a factory in Pakistan making uniforms for Dickies hired contract workers. Contract workers are technically hired by an employment contractor that distributes workers between different factories. They are not considered official employees of any specific company and therefore don’t have the protections of a full-time employee, despite working long hours.
The workers interviewed said they worked inconsistent and excessively long hours in the Dickies factory with no recourse to protect themselves. Dickies declined comment.