Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

SWEATSHOPS AND CHILD LABOR

Adopted by the 108th Annual Convention of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis June, 1997

Background

Issues of workers' rights are spoken to specifically in the Torah. We are ever mindful of the biblical commandment that, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land." (Deuteronomy 24:10) Adhering to these fundamental Jewish values, and recognizing that the hardships faced by our grandparents in the sweatshops of New York City are reflected in the experiences of today's immigrants who labor in fields and factories to guarantee a better future for themselves and their children, our community has long sought to secure safe and equitable conditions for our nation's workers. Our tradition and our experience teach us that we betray the cause of justice unless we work to end the oppression of workers throughout the world.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and the CCAR (CCAR) have long called for the elimination of abusive labor conditions and practices. In 1909, the UAHC spoke out strongly against the deplorable exploitation of children in the workplace. In 1961, the UAHC denounced discrimination against migrant farmers, calling on the federal government to help end these abuses and raise the status of these farm workers to a position of dignity and equality. And in 1969, the UAHC joined, and continues to support, the grape boycott intended to help secure better wages and working conditions for grape pickers.

Unfortunately, the conditions that have prompted these actions in the past persist today. Labor abuses, such as the continued prevalence of sweatshops and child labor, are as repugnant to us now as they were before. In this country, workers are often forced to work in unsafe conditions, for upwards of twelve hours a day, at times for as little as seventy cents an hour. Abroad, children are frequently forced to labor in dangerous conditions, made even more hazardous by their young age. In many countries, children work in near slavery, for no pay and as prisoners in factories. As people of faith, it is our responsibility to act on our principles and ensure that all workers, regardless of industry, regardless of rank, are treated with dignity and fairness.

THEREFORE, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism resolves to

  1. Encourage independent third party monitoring programs, by groups such as human rights organizations, labor unions, and religious organizations, which conduct independent and unannounced audits of factories and provide information on their findings to consumers;

  2. Support legislation to make manufacturers, including retailers who act as manufacturers, responsible for their contractors' violations (while retaining any right of indemnity they have against the contractors);

  3. Urge UAHC member congregations to combat the exploitation of children in the workplace and the prevalence of sweatshop labor through such activities as: generating congregational awareness campaigns around the issues of sweatshop labor and child labor; sensitizing congregants to the history of sweatshops and child labor in the United States, specifically in the Jewish community; and participating in coalitions and other activities that seek to put an end to these workplace abuses;

  4. Commend industry programs which monitor production in their industry to ensure that no sweatshop or child labor is being used; and,

  5. Encourage UAHC congregants to take part in preferential purchasing from companies which monitor manufacturing in their industry.

And calls upon the U.S. federal government and state governments to

  1. Enact legislation that will allow for adequate staffing and funding to enforce existing workers' protection statutes;

  2. Enact legislation and take appropriate administrative measures to ban the import into the United States of products found to be made with child labor or sweatshop labor;

  3. Enact legislation that will correct the egregious violations of workers' rights, both child and adult, which occur in the agricultural industry; and

  4. Ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 138, which seek to set international standards for child labor.