February 26, 2001
Responding to the ethical imperative to respect and protect the basic rights of working men and women, and noting the experience of our immigrant forebears as sweatshop laborers, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) reaffirms its commitment to safe, decent, secure working conditions and to the campaign to eliminate sweatshops and end exploitative child labor. The organized Jewish community has long been involved in these efforts and has consistently supported the basic right of working men and women to improve their working conditions. Issues of workers’ rights are fundamental to our beliefs. As the Torah states unequivocally, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute worker, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land” (Deuteronomy 24:14). We strive to ensure that all workers, regardless of industry, regardless of rank, are treated with dignity and fairness.
Unfortunately, serious abuses persist in the United States and round the world. Workers in some places, including children, are still forced to labor in unsafe conditions. In many countries, children work in near slavery, for no pay, and as virtual prisoners in factories. The JCPA welcomes efforts by some industries and individual business organizations to monitor child labor and sweatshop violations in the manufacture of the products they sell. However, unless they provide for independent third party monitors that conduct unannounced inspections of manufacturing facilities, there is no assurance that monitoring will succeed in exposing these abuses.
In light of continuing sweatshop and child labor abuses, the JCPA therefore resolves to:
- Encourage the use of independent third party monitoring programs, by groups such as human rights organizations and religious organizations that bring trained investigators to conduct independent and unannounced audits of factories and provide information on their findings to consumers. To be effective, such programs must be conducted in cooperation with those engaged in foreign manufacture;
- Support initiatives to encourage manufacturers, including retailers who act as manufacturers, to take greater responsibility for contractors’ violations, including overseas (while retaining any right of indemnity they have against the contractors);
- Commend industry programs that monitor production where independent monitors confirm that no sweatshop or child labor is being used;
- Encourage the purchase of merchandise from those companies whose self-monitoring has been shown to be effective by independent companies;
- Call upon the federal and state governments to provide adequate staffing and funding to enforce existing workers’ protection statutes;
- Encourage enactment of municipal, state, and federal statutes or ordinances that prohibit government agencies from purchasing goods made under sweatshop conditions;
- Pledge participation by the JCPA, and urge participation by constituent agencies, in local and national coalitions to combat child labor and sweatshop abuses, through such activities as: public awareness campaigns; legislative measures to end these workplace abuses; and efforts to aid exploited workers currently laboring in sweatshops both in this country and abroad.