Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Dorian Lam
Jobs With Justice Pennsylvania SweatFree campaign organizer

by Isaiah Thompson

Published: Jul 9, 2008

Four years ago, Gov. Ed Rendell signed an executive order that prohibited state agencies from purchasing from or laundering in sweatshops — factories that pay below-poverty wages or commit other labor abuses. Now, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice is leading a statewide campaign to hold Rendell to his word. A July 1 report from the nonprofit group Sweatshop Communities found labor and/or human rights abuses in some of the factories that supply eight brands purchased by state agencies. Pennsylvania, the report claims, buys four of these brands: Blauer; Dickies; Lion Apparel, which makes uniforms; and Rocky Brands, which makes footwear.

Jobs With Justice is asking Rendell to join a proposed consortium of states that would agree to contribute 1 percent of their garment-procurement spending toward paying for independent factory investigations.

Dorian Lam is an undergraduate student at Temple and the main organizer for the campaign in Pennsylvania. She worked with Jobs With Justice for three years as a volunteer before taking a staff position just a few months ago. She's helped put together an event — a Workers Rights Board hearing — taking place Sat., July 12, to call attention to the Jobs With Justice campaign.

City Paper: What difference will it make if Gov. Rendell does agree to contribute 1 percent of the state's apparel budget to this consortium?

Dorian Lam: Folks around the world will get the money and be able to go into these factories. A lot of times, these companies have their workers lie to the government auditors. So we really want independent, nonprofit folks to go in there and make sure the workers are being treated fairly.

CP: How do you get people to care about these sweatshops, which are often so far away?

DL: I reach out to faith groups, student groups, unions. I think that faith groups in particular are concerned — there's a lot of moral justice in what they teach to their communities, and I think human rights and labor rights are a natural fit. The Presbyterians nationally are adopting a national anti-sweatshop [stance]. We're also working closely with the Jewish Labor Committee.

Besides that, I talk to other organizers in Pittsburgh, people at the governor's office — I go back and forth a lot between Philly and Pittsburgh.

CP: Why should union workers here care about people in factories on the other side of the world?

DL: Unionized workers here understand what it's like when they have to go on strike, because they have to fight for better conditions. I think the labor movement in America is growing smaller and smaller. They have to start thinking about new ideas — not just workers in other countries, but immigrants who are coming here, as well. If you want to make the labor movement strong, you have to look at those people, too.

CP: With all the brands that are made in sweatshops out there, will this campaign make a real difference?

DL: It's a drop in the bucket. But we're looking at Rendell strategically — he adopted this executive order, he already supported this. We think he will take the next step and join this consortium. And if he does, it shows other states that okay, someone really cares about fair procurement and fair purchasing.

CP: You immigrated from Hong Kong eight years ago. How did that experience influence the work you're doing now?

DL: I grew up with a lot of Confucian values. My mom taught me that everyone has a role in society. When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the Chinese government tried to suppress a lot of freedom of religion and freedom of speech that we had, and it was the first time I participated in a protest. After that, I realized there's something we can do to demonstrate what we believe in, and to change our society and our world. A lot of the products we buy here are manufactured in China, and some of those products are made in sweatshops. I'm trying to change that.


The Workers Rights Board hearing will be held at Broad Street Ministries, 315 S. Broad St., at 11 a.m. A rally will follow at 12:30 p.m. To read the report, visit

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