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Thousands back fair trade for the public sector

Textile workers in India often manufacture uniforms for Swiss employees Keystone

Nearly 20,000 people want to see improved conditions for overseas workers who produce uniforms for Switzerland’s public enterprises. Their open letter, delivered to parliament on Monday, intends to influence upcoming legislative revisions.

“Public procurement accounts for SFr32 billion ($34.5 billion) of the Swiss national budget every year,” the letter begins. “As an influential buyer, Switzerland has both the chance and the duty to operate as a responsible and sustainable customer.”

The non-profit Berne Declaration is behind the petition. It is also signed by several other non-governmental organisations and charities, including Helvetas, Solidar Suisse, Swiss Intercooperation, Lenten Fund, Bread for All, Max Havelaar and Swiss Fair Trade.

Uniforms and supplies for Swiss public workers are generally manufactured outside Switzerland in places such as Macedonia and India because minimum wage requirements are much lower there. However, recent reports in the Swiss media about factory working conditions have heightened public awareness of the fact that many workers abroad are barely making enough income to survive.

The Berne Declaration notes that the Swiss army, which purchases SFr50-60 million worth of textiles and uniforms annually, has the most work to do to make sure the workers who produce those goods are treated fairly.

Social Democratic parliamentarian Corrado Pardini, supported by a members of most other political parties, last week filed a motion to have the government require that the Swiss army’s supplies be fairly sourced. Parliament still has to discuss the issue.

The Berne Declaration also notes that the Post Office and the Federal Railways have made some progress toward ensuring their uniforms and supplies are made fairly. The postal service recently became a member of the Fair Trade Foundation, which requires external supervision of members’ manufacturing operations. The Federal Railways is a member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative, but unlike the post, it is not required to ensure that the workers who make its uniforms are paid a living wage.

The Berne Declaration hopes the letter will influence upcoming revisions being made to the procurement law.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR