ASHLAND — The city will join a watchdog group to make sure the $85,000 it spends each year on uniforms doesn't go to factories with sweatshop conditions.

ASHLAND — The city will join a watchdog group to make sure the $85,000 it spends each year on uniforms doesn't go to factories with sweatshop conditions.

On Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously voted to have the city government buy uniforms for police, firefighters and other employees only from nonsweatshop sources.

Ashland will pay $500 annually to join a consortium of government agencies that will pool information about where to buy sweatshop-free clothing. The consortium also will monitor clothing sources for compliance.

If annual consortium dues exceed 1 percent of the amount the city spends on clothing, city staff will bring the policy back to the council for review. One percent of the city's current $85,000 uniform budget would be $850.

To meet sweatshop-free criteria, factories can't pay poverty wages, use prisoners in other countries as laborers or use abusive forms of child labor. Factories also must meet building and fire codes and can't expose workers to hazardous toxic materials, among other rules.

Advocates for the sweatshop-free policy said taxpayer dollars shouldn't be spent to support "deplorable" conditions in the garment industry.

Portland and eight states already have adopted sweatshop-free policies, according to members of Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice, one of several groups that supported an Ashland sweatshop-free policy.

Advocates are working to persuade the state of Oregon to adopt a sweatshop-free policy.

Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice Chair Wes Brain said, by joining the consortium, Ashland will help bring up garment industry standards around the world.

"My hat is off to this council. It is an amazing thing. The citizens can work with the council," Brain said.

Councilman Eric Navickas said the garment industry has a long history of abusive practices.

"I'm really proud to have this opportunity to join the consortium," he said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.