Berkeley Adopts Sweatshop-Free Ordinance

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Following in the footsteps of several other cities like San Francisco, the Berkeley City Council adopted a sweatshop-free ordinance Tuesday night.

The ordinance-which was first discussed five years ago-would mandate that vendors disclose the sources of their goods and guarantee that the items they sell to the city are produced in humane workplaces, according to Robert Hicks, the director of the finance department.

The information that vendors would have to supply under the ordinance would include the address, phone number and any other contact information of the manufacturer, he added.

"The policy goal is to not punish anybody," Hicks said. "We want to work towards education, we want to work with these vendors to show them where they can go for factories that are compliant with the ordinance."

Although fully in support of the ordinance's intentions, the main issue for council members was setting an appropriate threshold-which would mandate that any contract that totals more than a certain amount of money in any given fiscal year would be required to comply with the ordinance.

As adopted Tuesday, the threshold would apply to apparel contracts of $25,000 and above, according to Councilmember Darryl Moore.

Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Max Anderson and Gordon Wozniak said that the $25,000 threshold is too high and could exclude important vendors like large corporations that buy from several manufacturers under the threshold.

"There is the unintended consequence of driving our vendors to the big corporations who don't have to comply with the ordinance," Capitelli said. "I would consider that our goal should be lowering (the threshold) to zero."

Because of council members' concerns, along with its adoption of the ordinance, the council agreed to revisit the issue of the $25,000 threshold in six months, according to Moore.

Councilmember Linda Maio said the six months would provide adequate time to work with vendors.

"We can work together with them and we don't have that many to work with," Maio said. "We can see how we can pin things together without penalizing anyone."

Katie Quan, a Berkeley resident and Associate Chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said she was very pleased with the ordinance's adoption.

"All citizens are in support of the ordinance and it is an action that is long overdue," Quan said. "This is just part of a growing chorus of governments and universities that say that sweatshop exploitation is inhumane."


Contact Genevieve Head-Gordon at [email protected]

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