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Workplace No Sweat Purchasing Policy

Many public employees and some private sector workers wear uniforms purchased or selected by their employers - school janitors and maintenance people, hospital and nursing home employees, postal workers, fire fighters, prison guards, airline employees, etc.

Some unions have already achieved "Union Label" purchasing policies through collective bargaining. Those policies require the employer to purchase uniforms made by workers who have the protection of a union and a negotiated collective agreement.

The advantages of such policies are obvious - they help to protect the jobs of already unionized workers and discourage employers from shifting production or contracting out work to non-union suppliers. Through their grievance procedure, workers themselves monitor whether factory conditions meet the standards established in their collective agreement and under local law.

An alternative strategy, which has recently gained more public notice, is to lobby the employer to adopt a "No Sweat" purchasing policy for all bulk-purchased apparel, including staff uniforms. An effective No Sweat policy requires manufacturers and their suppliers to respect internationally accepted worker rights and labour standards, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, to publicly disclose the locations of production, and to allow for independent monitoring of factory conditions.

The advantages of No Sweat purchasing policies are also obvious. They discourage companies from firing unorganized workers whenever they attempt to organize to improve conditions. And they encourage companies to work with their suppliers to ensure that violations of the code are corrected, and are not repeated. Such policies could help create a climate in which workers are less afraid to organize.

Whichever strategy you choose, consult with your union before launching a campaign. Find out whether there is a purchasing policy currently in place, or whether your union plans to raise the issue through collective bargaining.

Organizing Steps

  • Do a survey of the different staff uniforms worn at your workplace that are bulk purchased or chosen by your employer. Make a list of the companies who make the uniforms and the countries where they are made. Keep it for future reference.
  • Find out who makes the decisions about uniform purchases.
  • Check whether the countries where the uniforms are made are known labour rights violators, and whether the companies involved have been linked to sweatshop abuses.
  • Invite a representative of UNITE HERE (the garment workers' union), the CLC, the labour council, or another group active in the No Sweat campaign to speak at your next union local meeting. Show a short video. Organize a No Sweat committee.
  • Circulate a petition calling for a No Sweat purchasing policy.
  • Through your union, arrange a meeting with the department in charge of uniform purchasing decisions. Present them the signed petitions and your proposed purchasing policy. You can contact the Canadian Labour Congress for contract language and model clauses for union label and No Sweat policies:
  • Identify other groups that might be interested in supporting your campaign, such as students, teachers, members of other unions, your local labour council, sympathetic members of your institution's board of directors, and community groups.