Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is supposed to be a breezy exhibition of the sport’s brightest stars. It’s also a place for baseball’s corporate patrons to be wined, dined and reassured about the current state of the game.
But at this year’s All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, the party was crashed by a bull-headed group of about seventy activists determined to change the way the corporate game is played. The Pittsburgh Anti-Sweatshop Community Alliance (PASCA) held a spirited rally outside Tuesday’s game at PNC Park followed by a march to Roberto Clemente Bridge. The procession was a celebration of something antisweatshop activists had never been able to claim with Major League Baseball: real progress.
For several years, PASCA has tried to get the Pirates to address the unfair working conditions in some of the factories where their apparel is produced. For several years they’ve been treated the way other National League teams treat the Pirates: like a doormat. But as the All-Star Game approached, PASCA’s dogged work finally paid off.
A citywide debate was ignited when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recognized PASCA’s work in a recent editorial that asked, “Would you mind if that Pittsburgh Pirates shirt you bought last week was sewn by a fourteen-year-old girl in Bangladesh during her twelfth hour of labor in a factory that pays her in pocket change?”
Baseball’s initial response was to go on the attack. In a letter to Pittsburgh activist Tim Stevens, Ethan Orlinsky, senior vice president and general counsel for Major League Baseball Properties, said MLB was “proud of the accomplishments of our licensees [who] provide gainful employment to tens of thousands of people, in all cases in what we understand to be full compliance with all applicable labor laws” and asserted that “statements criticizing Major League Baseball and MLBP’s licensees for engaging ‘sweatshop’ labor are without merit.”
Orlinsky demanded that PASCA supply concrete proof of sweatshop abuses. They were ready. Antisweatshop leaders responded in writing, even offering to help set up a proper mechanism for monitoring and enforcing labor rights.
Bjorn Claeson, director of SweatFree Communities, a national network of antisweatshop organizers that includes PASCA, told us, “It’s mind-boggling that someone representing Major League Baseball can make these claims at this day and age. They can listen to one of their own licensees, or probably several of their licensees, who are now publicly admitting to a series of chronic human rights violations.”