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Does Bay State support sweatshops?

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

Here are some interesting items from my mail bag:

Are our tax dollars being used to support sweatshops? A new report makes that claim. States are contracting with clothing manufacturers who in turn are making clothes and uniforms in sweatshops in foreign countries.
"U.S. states, cities and counties are inadvertently using millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase goods from companies engaged in serious human rights and labor violations, according to a first-of-its-kind report released today by SweatFree Communities. The study, 'Subsidizing Sweatshops: How Our Tax Dollars Fund the Race to the Bottom, and What Cities and States Can Do,' includes in depth case studies of 12 factories in nine countries that produce public employee uniforms for nine major uniform brands.
"Elected officials, religious leaders, human rights groups, students and labor unions participated in at least eight rallies, press conferences or other events around the country. 'We are calling on public entities to join the Sweatfree Consortium, a collaborative effort of states, local governments, labor rights experts and human rights advocates to end tax dollar support for sweatshops,' said Bjorn Claeson, Executive Director of SweatFree Communities and an author of the report. 'We can use our collective purchasing power to improve working conditions instead of furthering the race to the bottom.'
"'Governments have an obligation to conduct business in an open and ethical way,' Gov. John E. Baldacci of Maine said. 'By working cooperatively with other states and localities, we can more effectively monitor supplier behavior and enforce standards for the way workers are treated in other countries.' Gov. Baldacci is a leader in the campaign to end public purchasing from sweatshops...
"Workers at a Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co. (Dickies) supplier factory in Karachi, Pakistan, described to researchers the excessive working hours to which they are subjected: '12 to 13 hours a day, 30 days per month,' according to Fazad.
"'If we refuse shifts, are absent or make a mistake then our supervisors and other mid-level management beat and slap us,' said Bithi, a 22-year-old sewing operator who has worked four years at a Bangladesh factory producing undergarments for Bob Barker Co., a major supplier for U.S. state and county correctional institutions.
"'In a globalized apparel industry where these violations are widespread... gathering information about problems is an important first step in our effort to ensure full respect for the rights of the workers that our policies are designed to help,' wrote Betty Lamoreau, Director of Division of Purchases for the State of Maine, in letters to Cintas Corp., Blauer Manufacturing Co. and Bob Barker Co., three of the companies named in the report.
Subsidizing Sweatshops is available at www.sweatfree.org/subsidizing."
One wonders where our state uniforms are made...


Locally-grown produce safer

Locally-grown produce safer
Here's a prime reason to eat locally grown food: it doesn't make you sick.
"The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that four additional cases of salmonella in Massachusetts have been linked to the nationwide outbreak associated with certain types of raw tomatoes.
"The new cases bring the total number of cases identified in Massachusetts to 21. At least five of the cases were hospitalized as a result of their illness.
"DPH officials believe all of the reported cases became ill from late May through mid-June. Federal health officials continue to investigate the source of the contamination; however, until a source is identified consumers are reminded to avoid certain types of tomatoes.
"Since the outbreak began, the FDA has advised consumers to avoid certain raw red plum, raw red Roma, raw red round tomatoes and products containing these tomatoes. Tomatoes that are safe to eat include cherry, grape, tomatoes sold with the vine still attached and tomatoes grown at home. These are not likely to be tainted with salmonella.
"Tomatoes grown in Massachusetts are considered safe to eat by the FDA."
And our friends at McKinstry Farms in Chicopee say people are buying up locally grown tomatoes as soon as they are harvested.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to mdobbs@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.
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