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Organic Consumers Association

Vermont Becomes 7th State to go "Sweat Free"

BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont became just the seventh state to become "sweat free" Monday morning when Gov. Jim Douglas signed a sweatshop-free purchasing policy into law at Brattleboro Union High School.

With the signing ceremony at the school, the bill made the journey back to its place of origin roughly two years after members of the student organization Child Labor Education and Action (CLEA) initiated the campaign to push the state to go sweat free.

The act relating to state purchasing of apparel, footwear or textiles, originally introduced by 18 sponsors in 2007, passed both the House and Senate earlier in the year with full support. The measure requires companies selling products for the state to follow applicable labor laws.

"I never thought we'd really make a law, I'm really happy," said Tess Knowles-Thompson, CLEA member. The day was made even better, being her 18th birthday, when Douglas gave her the voters oath and passed around pieces of birthday cake.

It is very empowering to have a voice in government, she added. "This has definitively given me a direction in what I want to do."

Prior to the signing of the bill, members of the organization made Advertisement Click Here! a presentation about child labor, their trip to the Statehouse and the sweat-free movement to roughly 150 students from different social studies classes.

CLEA made the presentation so the students know why the group took the steps it did, and to try to recruit new members for the following year, said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a senior with CLEA.

Douglas, making the trip down from the Statehouse to sign the bill into law at the school, said it was great to see the students get involved. "This is an appropriate step," he said.

Vermont now joins California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Jersey and New York as states that have adopted a sweat-free purchasing law. Adding in cities, counties and school districts with sweat-free policies, the number skyrockets to 180 across the country.

The governor said because the measure has been passed in several states prior to the Vermont's adoption, retailers can feel comfortable that this policy can be implemented reasonably without major impact on their budget or procurement procedures.

In order to qualify for bids, companies must disclose locations of the cut-and-sew factories for transparency's sake.

"I am pleased that the law requires Vermont to collaborate with other public entities to 'develop an effective strategy to monitor vendor compliance,'" said Liana Foxvog, national organizer with SweatFree Communities, in a news release. "I hope this means that Vermont will become a founding member of the State and Local Governmental Sweatfree Consortium."

The consortium, created from local grass-roots campaigns around the nation, is part of the real work now after the law goes into action in order to enforce the measure among the different vendors.

The purpose is to ensure taxpayer dollars are not spent on products made in sweatshops, which has increasingly become a concern to consumers and businesses that workplaces have worker-friendly conditions. The goal is not to regulate the garment industry or boycott any business or country, but to simply scan the market and buy products from suppliers choosing to meet the standards.

With so much support for the bill in the House and the Senate, the students are hopeful the policy continues in the enforcement of the law.

"There's still a lot surrounding the issue," said Finck-Haynes. It is up to the people in the Statehouse to ensure this new piece of legislation is enforced, she said.

After seeing the hard work by members of CLEA -- who successfully made BUHS the first high school in the country to join the Worker Rights Consortium -- SweatFree Communities hopes to continue working with the group in future projects.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275

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