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Council Committee Declares Chicago a “Fair Trade City”

The Chicago City Council this week passed a resolution declaring Chicago a Fair Trade city, joining cities like San Francisco and Missoula, Mont., in a symbolic movement against poor working conditions in third-world countries.

The Fair Trade movement advocates paying higher prices to producers and maintaining basic social and environmental standards. A product designated as “fair trade” also means the item was manufactured without the use of forced or child labor.

The resolution was first approved on Monday by the Chicago City Council Finance Committee, and was unanimously approved Wednesday by the full City Council.

At Monday’s committee meeting, Amy Ellison, co-chair of Chicago Fair Trade, held up a soccer ball that she said was made by child laborers in Pakistan. She noted that the ball had 650 stitches, and they were all sewn by hand.

In 1996, one-fourth of the labor market in Pakistan was made up of children, Ellison said, and the median age of the worker was 7. Since then, laws have been changed, but there is still much to be done in this area, she said.

“There is still a great deal of child labor making balls in Pakistan,” Ellison said. “Boys should be playing with balls in Pakistan, not making them.”

Noting that his family is in the business of making springs, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) spoke in favor of the Fair Trade resolution.

“I really believe manufacturing is essential to the United States. I’ve watched as it’s been forced” to China and other nations, he said. “Some of our customers have said we should find a place in China to make springs — that China is the future.”

Mell said he strongly disagrees with this position.

“We’re seeing the erosion of the middle class,” he said. “You can’t get a manufacturing job now. Thirty-five years ago, if you lost your manufacturing job, you could walk two blocks and get another job. If we don’t realize we have to bring back manufacturing jobs to this country and enforce Fair Trade, we’re doomed to being a third-rate country.”

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