Behind the Labels

The “Behind the Labels” school-based Tikkun Olam project about sweatshop labor began in the fall of 2004.  During school time, students watched films about sweatshop and child labor, participated in an activity where they began to think about the origin of their clothing by placing their own clothing labels on a world map, studied Jewish teaching about the protection of workers, and talked and learned about  sweatshop conditions. At school assemblies, students heard talks given by Abe Riesman, a Harvard student and anti-sweatshop activist, and Adam Nieman, the founder of No Sweat Apparel. Kitah Zayin students attended a National Labor Committee speaking tour of Bangladeshi factory workers at Boston College in October 2004. In the fall of 2004, students and CDT families participated in an anti-sweatshop labor protest at Wal-Mart in Lynn, organized by Workman’s Circle. Moved by what they had discovered, students were readily engaged in a process of developing an educational program to share what they had learned with their parents, congregation, and larger community. The “Behind the Labels” event was designed to both educate the entire CDT community about the problem of sweatshops, as well as raise money for the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), an NGO in Bangladesh dedicated to facilitating achievement of labor rights by Bangladeshi garment workers.

Each religious school class developed their own project to contribute to the “Behind the Labels” event, which was held in March, 2005. Kitah Aleph made beautiful bookmarks for the student craft sale. Kitah Bet ran the admission table and handed out admission tickets indicating the hourly wage of a worker in a particular country, which then became the attendee’s admission charge. Kitah Gimmel ran the clothing  label/map activity, displaying a chart showing the results of the school’s clothing map activity. They also ran a wonderful craft activity for younger children which involved making a nosweat bag. Kitah Dalet displayed information about, and ran a raffle of, Fair Trade products. Kitah Hay displayed information about and offered samples of Fair Trade chocolate. Kitah Vav displayed information about the history of sweatshops and a Fair Trade clothing company.  Kitah Zayin distributed a sweatshop labor quiz, and transformed the Children’s Chapel into a poorly lit, guarded, fenced-in room of oppressed workers using sewing machines. Students who had attended Community Time, prior to the start of Religious School, sold a variety of crafts they had made during Community Time.  “Stations” not run by students at the event included an interesting exhibit about the history of Jews and sweatshops, a CDT members Services raffle, interesting photos and articles about the Bangladeshi educational system, and a table where event speakers were stationed to answer attendees’ questions.

During the second half of the event, Religious School graduates modeled name brand, sweatshop-made clothing in a “fashion show” that informed attendees about the labor abuses of a variety of companies. A guest speaker, Chie Abad, a former sweatshop worker from Saipan and speaker with Global Exchange, spoke about her experience of being economically abused as a worker and her successful participation in a class action suit against 26 U.S. clothing retailers in 1999. An organizer from SweatFree Communities, Liana Foxvog, also spoke about her organizing efforts to get communities and groups to adopt “no sweat” purchasing policies. The program ended with song: Ora Gladstone led attendees in singing labor songs and Hankus Netsky sang “Arbiter-Froyen” ( Working Women ) in Yiddish.