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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015: www.maquilasolidarity.org

No Sweat: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What can I do to make sure my school or workplace clothing is made under decent conditions?
  2. What is the No Sweat campaign?
  3. Why adopt a No Sweat policy?
  4. Why not just boycott companies that violate worker rights?
  5. Isn't a "Made in Canada" policy good enough?
  6. Will some workers lose their jobs if a No Sweat policy is adopted?
  7. What's included in a No Sweat policy?
  8. Can No Sweat policies be challenged under international trade rules?
  9. How does a No Sweat policy work?
  10. Why are factory disclosure and transparent reporting so important?
  11. Would we have to pay more for sweat-free clothing?
  12. How do I convince my school board, university or municipal government to adopt a No Sweat policy?
  13. How do I get involved in a No Sweat campaign?

Return to general Frequently Asked Questions

1. What can I do to make sure my school or workplace clothing is made under decent conditions?

You can join with others in requesting that your school board, workplace, municipality or provincial government adopt a No Sweat purchasing or licensing policy in order to ensure that workers making uniforms and other school or work clothes are not exploited.

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2. What is the No Sweat campaign?

In 2000, the Ethical Trading Action Group (ETAG) launched the No Sweat campaign to promote the adoption of ethical purchasing policies by Canadian public institutions such as high schools, universities, and municipal governments, and mobilize public support for changes in federal textile labeling regulations to require apparel companies to publicly disclose the name and addresses of factory locations. The campaign tried to open the door for industry-wide changes in how our clothes are made - from abusive working conditions hidden behind closed doors to humane conditions open to public scrutiny. At least 13 universities, 11 school boards, three major municipalities and one province adopted "No Sweat" policies by the time ETAG ended the campaign in 2006.

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3. Why adopt a No Sweat policy?

A No Sweat purchasing policy ensures that taxpayers' dollars are not used to promote sweatshop abuses. An effective No Sweat policy requires apparel companies supplying public institutions to better monitor working conditions in their supply factories and work with their suppliers to improve those conditions. As more and more public institutions adopt No Sweat policies, apparel companies will come under increasing pressure to find industry-wide solutions to the growing problem of sweatshop abuses. When workers stand up for their rights and organize for improved working conditions they will no longer be fired or otherwise punished.

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4. Why not just boycott companies that violate worker rights?

A short-term boycott of a specific brand or company can be an effective strategy when it is endorsed by the affected workers and has achievable goals. However, boycotting products without worker support or concrete achievable goals can threaten workers' employment without achieving improvements in working conditions.

The purpose of a No Sweat policy is to channel the public institution's buying power in a positive way to promote improved working conditions in the industry, rather than boycotting specific brands or manufacturers.

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5. Isn't a "Made in Canada" policy good enough?

Unfortunately, the "Made in Canada" label does not guarantee that the item was made under humane working conditions. Even in Canada, many garment workers employed in small subcontract factories or sewing brand-name clothes in their own homes are paid less than legal minimum wage, work under unhealthy conditions, are denied statutory benefits, and are compelled to work excessively long hours without overtime pay.

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6. Will some workers lose their jobs if a No Sweat policy is adopted?

Workers everywhere have the right to employment, but they also want respect in the workplace, decent working conditions and a living wage. A No Sweat policy encourages current suppliers of uniforms and other apparel products for public institutions to ensure that the rights of workers making those products are respected. Ending a contract with a supplier is the last resort, and should only be resorted to when the supplier refuses to cooperate with the policy. The goal of a No Sweat policy is to encourage current suppliers to improve working conditions, not to cut off suppliers or take actions that result in factory closures or job loss.

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7. What's included in a No Sweat policy?

A No Sweat policy requires all suppliers producing clothing for public institutions to comply with local laws and internationally accepted minimum labour standards based on the Declarations of the United Nations and the Conventions of International Labour Organization (ILO). A No Sweat policy includes provisions on child labour, forced labour, discrimination, harassment and abuse, wages, hours of work, and health and safety practices. The better No Sweat policies require payment of a living wage by local standards and prohibit specific forms of discrimination against women workers.

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8. Can No Sweat policies be challenged under international trade rules?

Procurement policies of Canadian municipalities, school boards and universities are not currently affected by World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations or North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rules on investor rights and non-discrimination of foreign products.

However, to avoid a possible challenge in the future, a No Sweat purchasing policy should treat domestic and foreign companies equally. It's also important to base the policy on internationally recognized minimum labour standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO). In general, policies that require compliance with international labour standards, but do not discriminate on the basis of country of origin, are less likely to be challenged under trade agreements.

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9. How does a No Sweat policy work?

The goal of a No Sweat policy is to achieve positive results with a minimum burden on the municipality, school board or university. Instead, the onus is on the apparel suppliers to provide evidence that they are complying with the policy.

Apparel companies supplying uniforms or other apparel products to the public institution must comply with the No Sweat policy as a condition of doing business. Appropriate staff of the institution should be mandated to implement the policy.

An effective No Sweat policy also requires companies to publicly disclose the names and addresses of all factories producing for the public institution; submit public annual reports to the public institution on how they and their subcontractors are achieving compliance with the policy; cooperate with third-party investigations of supply factories when there are credible reports of policy violations; and take corrective action to eliminate abuses when they occur.

Apparel suppliers, not public institutions, are responsible for carrying out and paying for factory monitoring and third-party investigations of reported policy violations.

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10. Why are factory disclosure and transparent reporting so important?

Public disclosure of factory locations and annual progress reports encourage companies to pay closer attention to working conditions in their supply chains. Currently, there is no way for consumers, including public institutions, to know where the apparel products they buy are made or under what conditions - clothing labels only tell us the country of origin. Public disclosure of factory locations removes the veil of secrecy that currently protects the industry from public scrutiny, and makes it possible to verify whether company reports on working conditions and labour practices are accurate.

Successful No Sweat campaigns in Canada and the United States have won university licensing and purchasing policies requiring clothing retailers and manufacturers to disclose manufacturing locations to universities and the public. With that information, university students and administrations have been able to pressure university suppliers to respond to credible reports of worker rights violations and eliminate those abuses.

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11. Would we have to pay more for sweat-free clothing?

The experience of public institutions in Canada so far is that there is no increase in the price of apparel as a result of No Sweat policies. In most cases, labour costs are a small percentage of the final retail price of a clothing item. In any event, a public institution should purchase apparel at the lowest responsible price - not at a price that can only be met by using sweatshops. No Sweat purchasing policies ensure a level playing field where all companies compete for business without the unfair advantage of exploiting workers.

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12. How do I convince my school board, university or municipal government to adopt a No Sweat policy?

To win a No Sweat policy, you will need the support of students, teachers and/or community members. A successful campaign requires a commitment of time, effort and resources.

Typically, a No Sweat campaign is a two-stage process. First, you and others in your school or community will have to demonstrate sufficient support for the policy to convince your school board, university, or municipal government to adopt a motion to develop the No Sweat policy. Second, you will need to work with the institution's staff and other interested stakeholders to achieve consensus on the minimum labour standards and implementation provisions of the policy. The agreed upon policy may or may not need approval from the governing body of your institution before it is implemented. For more information click here.

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13. How do I get involved in a No Sweat campaign?

Contact groups that may already be involved in No Sweat campaigning in your community. Overseas development or human rights organizations, student groups, unions, faith organizations or fair trade groups may already be working on sweatshop issues, or might be interested in doing so. If there aren't any organizations already involved in anti-sweatshop campaigns in your area, consider starting a No Sweat group yourself. Before launching a No Sweat campaign, contact other organizations at your school or in your community that might be interested in working in coalition to win a No Sweat policy. For more information click here.

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