My Crusade Against Sweatshops

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Two years ago I didn’t think twice about what brand name I was wearing, let alone where the article of clothing was manufactured. Mexico, Vietnam, China—until last year, they were little more than locations on a map to me. It was September, and I had been recently elected regional Treasurer of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), a non-profit Jewish youth organization. Among my broad responsibilities of leading the region, my job was to design and order merchandise for the couple hundred teens attending each event. I was preparing to place my first order, when my Regional Advisor asked me if I had considered ordering from a sweatshop-free manufacturer. I didn’t even know such an option existed. After researching sweatshop practices, I decided to choose an ethical manufacturer. I realized that I was elected not to just design merchandise, but also to uphold the integrity of my organization as a leader, including its commitment to tikkun olam, the Jewish value of repairing the world. As leaders, we are expected to be role models, and our choices should reflect our values; I wasn’t going to let a slightly higher price tag stand in the way of justice. We may not eradicate sweatshops, but I knew that we could at least support healthier labor practices with the power of our dollar. As I thought about the issue more, I began to wonder why the sweat-free movement wasn’t the first choice for all consumers. While I understood that cost was a major detraction, I felt there must be another factor. Then I remembered that I had only learned of the sweat-free option recently; if more of us were aware, perhaps more of us would in turn make the moral decision. Many consumers are just unaware of their power to choose.I felt empowered by the thought of spreading awareness, and, as we talked as a board, I suggested that we develop a resolution for our NFTY region. Our resolution proposed specific guidelines to ensure that all future orders support only ethical manufacturers. It also included additional tools for both implementing the policy and raising awareness outside our organization. The region passed it unanimously at our next event. As teen consumers, we had made a statement, but I wanted to carry the initiative further to NFTY on the North American level. As the newly elected president of my region, I presented my “Resolution Regarding Sweatshop-free Merchandise” at a North American summer conference. I was nervous walking up to the podium, but I’ll never forget delivering my argument or watching my peers vote in favor of the proposal. Knowing that I helped NFTY help workers across the world is an incredible feeling. While I once rolled my eyes when told that one voice can make a difference, it has now become a personal motto, and my next target is reforming my high school.

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