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"No Sweatshop" Campaign Heats up
- Subject: "No Sweatshop" Campaign Heats up
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 03:59:00
NOTE: Yes Burma is -noted- in this article.
Labor-U.S.: "No Sweatshop" Campaign Heats up
Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, (Nov. 17) IPS - Labor unions and activists
say that the White House accord between U.S. apparel and
footwear companies and human-rights groups to monitor
working conditions in foreign plants will not eliminate
Two unions have refused to endorse the Nov. 3 agreement
which, among other provisions, creates an independent "Fair
Labor Association" (FLA) to accredit the monitoring firms
will inspect and report on conditions in plants owned or
contracted by the companies.
The National Labor Committee (NLC), an activist group
which almost singlehandedly propelled the apparel
companies' use of sweatshops onto the national public
agenda three years ago, also denounced the accord, which
has been signed by several major U.S. human rights groups.
"It's completely unacceptable," NLC director Charles
Kernaghan told a news conference today. "I think it's dead
He drew attention to new reports of abuses in Central
American plants which produced clothing for Nike and Liz
Claiborne, both signers of the White House agreement, as
well as other big U.S. brands.
The 33-page accord, announced here Nov. 3, was the
product of two years of White House-sponsored negotiations
by a core group of three human rights organizations -- the
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Robert F.
Kennedy Center for Human Rights, and the International
Labor Rights Fund.
Also involved in the negotiations were the National
Consumers League and five business representatives,
including Nike, Reebok, and Liz Claiborne.
Labor unions, a number of other companies, and the
church-backed Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
(ICCR) also were involved in the talks. While several of the
companies have since pledged to participate in the plan, the
labor unions -- including the Retail, Wholesale and
Department Store Union, and the Union of Needletrades,
Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) -- and the ICCR
said they cannot endorse it at this time.
The task force, known formally as the White House Apparel
Industry Partnership, agreed last year on a basic code of
conduct for U.S. apparel firms and their overseas
contractors. This included such provisions as a maximum
work week of 60 hours and a minimum working age of 15
unless local laws allowed 14-year-olds to work.
Under the Nov. 3 accord, the FLA's ruling body would
consist of an equal number of company delegates and
representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, church
and other public-interest groups. It also provided for a
system of both internal and external monitoring of overseas
plants by FLA-approved independent auditors to monitor
compliance with the code.
The accord required that 30 percent of the plants used by
each participating company would be subject to external
monitoring in the first two years. Thereafter, auditors
inspect between five and 15 percent of such factories each
year. Third parties, including local human rights groups and
labor activists, would also be able to bring possible code
violations to the FLA and its monitors at any time.
The agreement required companies to pay the legal
minimum wage or the prevailing industry wage where the
factories were located, whichever was higher.
The labor unions and ICCR assailed the agreement on
several grounds. Most important, they said was that the
apparel companies and their overseas contractors should be
required to pay a "living wage" that satisfied workers'
needs. They also expressed reservations about the
independence and rigor of the monitoring regime.
"This agreement would set up a monitoring norm where only
ten percent of a company supplier factories would be
independently monitored each year," said Ruth Rosenbaum,
an ICCR official. "In addition, we are concerned that large
auditing firms will become the Association's 'independent
monitors,' marginalizing participation by non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) who know the local context and are
more likely to have the trust of the workers."
Kernaghan echoed these remarks: "We don't think it's gone
nearly far enough; it doesn't deal with the issue of a
wage, which we find completely unacceptable," he said.
The human rights groups that signed the accord agreed it
contained some weaknesses but also insisted that it was
widely misunderstood. "No one sees it as something than
can work on its own," said RFK Center director James Silk,
who stressed that it was one more tool by which the NLC
and the unions could hold companies accountable.
Kernaghan, whose grassroots network is considering
launching a consumer's boycott of at least one major
company accused of worker abuse, said that all companies
should be required to release the names and addresses of
all their supplying plants so that the public and local
groups can focus attention on them.
He also charged today that, despite a 1997 Clinton-imposed
ban on new U.S. investment in Burma to protest human
rights and labor abuses, apparel companies were importing
more goods from there than ever before -- more than $110
million worth for 1998.
"Evidently, this is the kind of climate the companies
he said, noting that Burmese garment workers were paid
only eight dollars a month.
He said workers in El Salvador and Honduras at plants used
by Nike and Liz Claiborne continued to suffer serious
abuses, including forced overtime, pregnancy tests, and
poor health and sanitary conditions and were being paid a
basic wage of only 60 U.S. cents an hour -- roughly half of
"The women in El Salvador earn just 84 cents for every $194
Liz Claiborne jacket they sew," he said. "Could Liz
and its contractor in El Salvador afford to pay a living
For its part, Nike said it was investigating the reports of
abuse at the Formosa factory in El Salvador and considers
Kernaghan charges "important, but misdirected...A better
target for criticism would be the hundreds of companies who
have yet to become party to the Apparel Industry Partnership
and the requirements it imposes on global apparel
manufacturing," the company said.