May 1 , 2000

Putin's Promises
Will Russia's new president launch a revolution from above?

Union Nyet
The decline of Russian unions

Dullest Lights
Moldova makes a strange poster child for reform

Steering the Global Economy
Ingredients for an alternative

News & Views

Rudy plays the race card


A Terry Laban Cartoon

Mexico's Thought Police
FBI-trained forces allegedly tortured political dissidents

Dirty Deeds
Spain wants to extradite Argentina's former dictators

Party Palace
George W. Bush's lucrative sleepovers

Errol Morris, the interrogator

The Flanders Files
Arianna's change of heart

Spring Books

Mother Night
Slavenka Draculic's S.

Coming to America
Aleksandar Hemon's short fiction

Take a Hike
Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Corporate Ideals
John B. Judis, a real Progressive

Up, Up and Away
Frances Fitzgerald goes Way Out There in the Blue

Curtain Call
Susan Sontag gets lost In America

Constant Craving
The obsessions of Thom Gunn




Interview with Kate Pfordresher, Outgoing Executive Director,
People of Faith Network

By David Dyssegaard Kallick

What are the issues, what's the strategy?

The main mission of the People of Faith Network was to work with local congregations around campaigns that would raise the big issues of politics and the economy. Through the collaboration with the national labor committee (founded in the early '80s with People of Faith Network David Dysen as a co-founder), the sweatshops work seemed like a good place to start working with a religious constituency.

The strategy around our corporate campaigns is to mobilize consumer pressure, focus on the company's name and image, and try to attach to that in the public's eye their labor rights abuses, use of child labor, and that they profit from handsomely in the global economy.

Exposing The Gap corporation and contractors, then Kathy Lee Gifford, showing relationship in popular sense - this was in a transition time, founding. The Gap campaign was first letter-writing campaign; got churches to write letters to corporations.

The market for the Gap overlapped with the people we could mobilize.I wish I could say as much for other targets we've picked since then. The Wal-Mart campaign is much more difficult, because the market is so huge, and also it's lower-income folks, it's not urban (which is where our base is). Wal-Mart is hard to picket - for one thing, their parking lots are enormous. At The Gap, you can go to the corner of 34th and Broadway and picket easily on the street.

Nike is a really good example of a good campaign because the fact that young people - a key market for them - have turned on it in such a high-profile way is somtihng the company is going to have a hard time living down.

We haven't called for boycotts, we haven't done (as Ray Rogers, the director of Corporate Campaign has often done) personalized denouncements of individual board members. We've relied more on consumer pressure. There is a lot of generalized consumer consciousness out there.

Personally, I think the anti-sweatshop movement has to move beyond single-target corporate campaigns and focus more broadly on how to move the industry. At the same time, we should be keeping the pressure on individual companies - because they're not all the same, and we can move the industry by picking targets strategically and well.

This work has been incredibly successful - it always succeeds better than I think it might. But we're at a point where we have to think about how to consolidate our success and move on.

The GAP campaign was the first high-profile corporate campaign. And The Gap actually folded - they agreed that they had responsibility for their subcontractors, they leaned on their subcontractors in El Salvador to comply with their terms.

That's key. Because today, virtually no apparel is manufactured by the company that sells it. Almost all the production work is contracted out. So establishing responsibility for a contractual relationship is very important.

The small contractors are difficult to get to comply with standards of any kind. If they don't like something, or if they run out of money to pay people, they close up their doors and leave. The maquiladora plants are bigger - 500 to 1000 people - so they're harder to close and move...but they're in countries that don't enforce their own laws.

When we got started, these companies didn't have codes of conduct for their subcontractors - now pretty much all do, and in recent years, they've gotten better. All of them say we ban child labor under age 14.

That's the consumer corporate campaign side. Then there's the folks doing labor solidarity.

There's a four-part process: consumer pressure, solidarity groups, contractor (employer), people paying them.

Three years ago (6 to 9 months after the Kathy Lee Gifford campaign), [then-labor-secretary] Robert Reich put together a task force including UNITE, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, 4 other labor/human rights groups, and a whole series of companies. Nike, Liz Clayborn, Gap, LL Bean...there were about 13 companies in all. The People of Faith Network was not involved - we were the rabble on the outside; the nonprofits that were included were well established, respected, and definitely had a track record on the issue.

The idea of this process was to negotiate a voluntary agreement on codes of conduct.

Trying to include living wage demand; trying to get public disclosure - given that the industry is based on a whole chain below the company that sells you the goods of a number of places the goods get made.

It's very actually very difficult to know where a garment you pick up in the store actually gets made.

It's about as good as you're going to get from the company, but there are some significant loopholes. Where it's fallen down most, though, is in enforcement -there's not adequate enforcement. This has been the centerpiece of the student movement.

UNITE refused to sign the agreement and pulled out.

The Apparel Industry Partnership agreement is a voluntary association. The idea behind it isnt a terrible one; it's a very Clintonesque one. The idea is: You get everyone to agree to a common industry code, and then you get industry to agree to be inspected. If they pass muster, they get a little seal of approval. So you break apart the industry, because people can say they'll buy sweat-free clothes instead of clothes that don't have the label.

Right now, you can look for "made in USA" and the union lable - but you just can't buy clothes that way.

Unfortunately, the code of conduct isn't good enough. The thing that broke the deal for me is that there's very little information coming out that's uncensored by the companies.

The question for us now is figuring out how to campaign. Beyond discrediting the negotiation process - which is a very narrow policy debate - how do we move this forward? How do we get real concessions from the industry? And how do you deal with this in a very lawless economy where you have countries that don't enforce their own laws?

What do you do about finding a positive option? Besides a few "boutique" manufacturers, it seems like if you don't buy from one company that uses sweatshops you just wind up buying from another company that does.

Our members are saying that all the time: We don't shop at Wal-Mart, is it better to shop at Target? And you can't say that.

There are the products of microproduction - crafts from El Salvador, union labels if you can find them, elite products. But the majority is made in really rotten conditions, and increasingly outside the US.

And you have to avoid fatiguing people.

If one of the key factors is a seal of approval. Why not make your own?

That's a very interesting question. None of the groups have had the capacity to take that on. At this point in time it would be very hard for UNITE. People will say: it's not good enough. This would be a union vs. good worker thing. Some union shops conceivably might not qualify, and some non-union shops conceivably could qualify. Nothing will ever be good enough that we want to say "this is a good company." We're better at saying "this is a bad company." But then again, basically we think all companies are bad companies.

The good thing about the government doing this is: it could be a question of whether something is legal, not whether it is "good."

We're not very well coordinated, to say the least. We need to be better connected.



In These Times © 2000
Vol. 24, No. 11