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Message-Id: <199712021814.NAA10628@hermes.circ.gwu.edu>
Date: Sun, 30 Nov 97 13:04:07 CST
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.apc.org>
Subject: Sweatshop Abuses Continue
Article: 23046

Sweatshops still operating? Labor group says little has changed in the last 18 months to end abuses. Shoppers swarm stores

Reuters, 5:35 p.m. ET CNN: November 28, 1997

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Labor Committee Friday said 18 months after it began its campaign against sweatshops and human rights abuses in the retailing trade very little had changed and it was time to "name names."

On what is known as "Black Friday" -- the busiest shopping day of the holiday season -- the group that came to national attention when is exposed a Honduras factory making clothes for Wal-Mart under the Kathie Lee Gifford label said Nicaraguan workers continued to be paid 15 cents an hour and were subjected to physical abuse and strip searches.

Citing Disney, Guess?, Nike, J.C. Penny and Victoria's Secret as topping its "neediest and greediest" corporations list, the group said it is not calling for a boycott of the companies, but for consumers to question retailers about their labor practices.

"Let the consumer question," the Rev. James Joyce, a Jesuit and the director of Social Ministries told a news conference outside of the Guess? store in the trendy Soho neighborhood, chosen to represent a company that the group said continues to log overtime, wage and "industrial homework" violations.

"Where were these clothes made? ... By whom? ... The moral challenge is to question the retailers," Joyce said.

Charles Kernaghan, the group's executive director, said: "Eighteen months ago the companies came to us saying 'We are going ... to improve our corporate code of conduct"' and promised to monitor their vendor labor practices.

"These companies have failed, and failed miserably. We are here to draw a line in the sand." Kernaghan said the campaign's goal was to impress upon the corporations that "human rights are as important as the corporate bottom line."

The group said its strategy was to mobilize a "social movement" from the religious and university communities. "The companies will follow," Kernaghan said.

On a sidewalk in the fashionable area crowded with holiday shoppers clutching art gallery guides and $3 cups of coffee, the NLC also accused Disney (DIS) of rejecting pleas by Haitian workers, who were making six cents for making $19.99 garments, for a 58 cents an hour wage. The company and its contractor, H.H. Cutler, eventually left Haiti.

"They know that they live in poverty," Kernaghan said of the Haitians, "but they wanted to climb out of misery."

Several corporations have responded that the group failed to consider the world marketplace, where wages are nowhere near comparable to those in the United States.

But the NLC said 58 cents an hour would allow Haitians to get by, whereas the 50 cents an hour paid to Mexican workers making Guess? jeans does not even approach meeting basic survival needs. A week's worth of rice and beans for a small family costs about $30, the group said.

The NLC called for independent monitors of foreign sites and said that GAP became the first company to agree to that when the issue began getting widespread attention last year.

Kernaghan said the monitoring was having "a very definite effect. There's been a very big improvement" in conditions at GAP plants. He also cited the Liz Claiborne company for its ongoing dialogue with the group.

But he said that after Wal-Mart (WMT) said it had hired an independent monitor to examine its foreign operations, "what we found out is they had done absolutely nothing."

"The NLC continues to try to belittle a situation that is very serious to us," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Betsy Reithemeyer.

The company cited a recent finding from the Investor Responsibility Research Center that "Wal-Mart's standards for vendor partners are far more comprehensive than (those) embodied in the National Retail Federation's code."

Wal-Mart said more than 3,500 factories were inspected last year and that since 1993 over 100 factories have been prohibited from making its goods.

At Victoria's Secret Undergarment Fashion factory in the Dominican Republic, women earn 71 cents an hour, which works out to three cents for each $12 garment made, given the production quota of 5,400 garments per day for 30 workers, the NLC said.

The group said the daily wage of $5.68 barely covers the cost of a modest supper for a small family of $5.36.

No one from Victoria's Secret or The Limited, its parent company, was available to respond to the allegations. Guess? corporate headquarters were closed Friday. Also cited by the NLC were K-Mart, Esprit and May Co.

Copyright 1997 Reuters.