in a surprise sweep, council's ad-ministrative committee approved a landmark "No Sweat" purchasing policy last week. The measure, which is aimed at ensuring that apparel purchased by the city is not made with sweatshop labour either here or abroad, makes Toronto Canada's first No Sweat city. Some 34 U.S. cities have adopted similar policies.
It's a small but critical victory for anti-sweatshop activists who are battling to create No Sweat zones in municipalities across the country.
It didn't come without a fight, however, and there's still some convincing to be done before the measure goes before council for final approval May 21.
Among its opponents is the powerful Retail Council of Canada, which argues that forcing companies to disclose where their apparel is made or what contractors they use may compromise their edge over competitors.
"The location of factories is highly proprietary and confidential," Sharon Maloney, a VP for the Retail Council, told the admin committee.
Councillor Doug Holyday was not persuaded by the impassioned arguments of students, religious leaders, the firefighters union or the Toronto Police Association, all of whom support the purchasing policy. In the end, he was the only member of the committee to vote against the policy, abandoned even by his conservative colleague on the committee, Rob Ford.
"Without disclosure there's no way of determining that legal conditions are being met," says Alex Dagg, director of the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).
Dagg, whose union has been documenting the return of local sweatshops, points to Ministry of Labour stats that uncovered wage violations in some 205 random audits of the garment industry between 1991 and 2001.