The City left red-faced as orange pants are linked to worker abuses

Prison orange may be a source of embarrassment for the people who wear it. But a new investigation suggests city officials also should be embarrassed for having procured orange jail garments made by people who were subjected to sweatshop conditions.

Under a law dating back to 2005, The City attempts to ensure that none of the linens and garments it purchases come from sweatshops. But according to a city-funded investigation, San Francisco purchased 144 orange pants for County Jail inmates from a company whose subcontractors’ working conditions violated city standards.

After the report by the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor-rights-monitoring organization working for The City, the jail is no longer doing business with Gardena-based Robinson Textiles. Its two-year contract expired in January after selling San Francisco about $1,100 worth of jail pants.

According to a report, an investigation begun in early 2011 discovered sweatshop violations at a Dominican Republic factory owned by ITIC Apparel, which subcontracts to Robinson Textiles. The investigation documented a range of problems, including underpayment of workers, sexual harassment and worker-safety issues.

After city officials attempted to work with the supplier to improve the conditions at that factory, “Robinson gave the notice that they were going to let their contract expire with The City rather than remedy the working conditions at the ITIC factory,” Chairman Conrad MacKerron of the Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Group wrote. “The Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Group is troubled that Robinson Textiles chose not to resolve the workplace violations of their subcontractor.”

Robinson Textiles Sales Manager Pam Hurt questioned the investigation’s credibility and said this was the only such complaint she has received in more than 30 years.

“I have not seen the report,” Hurt said. “I have not been to the factory. So I cannot comment on that.”
But she noted The City has only bought a “measly 144 pairs of pants,” in June 2010.

The Sweatfree Contracting Ordinance was adopted by the Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2005. But city officials failed to enforce the law.

That led to a 2007 amendment that allowed The City to evaluate bids for contracts based on companies’ degree of compliance with the ordinance’s provisions, including listing their subcontractors and allowing site investigations.
The ordinance applies to a host of purchased goods such as garments, pillows and blankets. The City makes about $2.6 million worth of purchases of these kinds of goods annually under about 10 contracts.

The City works with the Worker Rights Consortium to investigate possible offenders. The partnership began in 2008 with the signing of a two-year $100,000 agreement. Up to $47,500 is budgeted each year for selective investigations.

By partnering with 11 other cities and three states in the Sweatfree Procurement Advisory Group, The City seeks to increase the financial impact that failing to comply with fair labor standards could have on these private companies.

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