(en) Apparel Task Force Fiasco

Ewald (ewald@ctaz.com)
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 18:28:57 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 17:14:33 -0700 (PDT) To: clr From: Campaign for Labor Rights <clr@igc.apc.org> (by way of Mike= Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org>) Subject: Apparel Task Force Fiasco

Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights NOTE: This alert has an action component!!! (see below)

APPAREL TASK FORCE FIASCO what the agreement really means

[Note: Commentary on the Task Force agreement includes text from a press release issued April 12 by Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, Trim Bissell of Campaign for Labor Rights, Dr. Elaine Bernard of Harvard University Tra= de Union Program, Thuyen Nguyen of Vietnam Labor Watch, Jeff Ballinger of Pre= ss for Change, Max White of Justice Do It Nike and Reverand Max Surjadinata o= f United Church of Christ.]

On August 2nd, in a Rose Garden press conference, President Clinton and then-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich announced the formation of a Task For= ce charged with producing standards for a "no sweat" clothing label within 6 months. The Task Force consisted of apparel industry giants like Nike and Liz Claiborne and several human rights and labor groups. That the Task Force took nearly 8 =BD months to produce a report was due to intransigenc= e by industry representatives, who refused to accept any meaningful change from the status quo.

The Presidential Task Force's agreement on sweatshops, to be released on April 14, demonstrates that grassroots activism is still needed to win justice for apparel industry workers -- now more than ever. Unfortunately= , the good-faith efforts of the human rights and labor representatives on th= e task force were not matched by the representatives of the apparel industry= . (Are we surprised?) Industry reps stonewalled on every major point which might have ameliorated the misery of those whose labors enrich them. Amon= g the horrors of this agreement are the following points:

* Companies shall pay the local minimum wage or prevailing industry wag= e.

It is widely ackowledged that third world countries tend to set the minimu= m wage well below what workers need to meet even their most basic needs. Th= ey do so to encourage investment by foreign capital. In effect, then, it is the garment industry and not truly the countries themselves which set lega= l minimum wages so low -- because governments understand full well that the industry locates its production in the lowest wage havens. What we have, with the Task Force agreement, is an industry promise to "comply" with the low-wage standard that its own practices have created.

* The agreement accepts a 60-hour work week (48 hours plus 12 hours mandatory overtime) as the norm and then says, "Except in extraordinary business circumstances," workers will not be forced to work more than that= .

Anything could qualify as an "extraordinary circumstance," making even the commitment to an outrageous 60-hour week meaningless. Moreover, the agreement addresses only mandatory overtime. Already, garment industry workers put in endless hours of supposedly "voluntary" overtime. There should be NO mandatory overtime. If workers were paid a living wage for a= n 8-hour day, excessive "voluntary" overtime would cease.

* Employees shall be compensated for overtime hours at the legal rate or= , where none exists, at a rate at least equal to their regular hourly compensation rate.

Labor unons the world over call for overtime to be paid at a higher rate than the regular hourly wage. The Task Force agreement should call for at least time-and-a-half for overtime.

* To verify whether industry complies with even these paltry standards, the agreement states that companies shall use independent external monitor= s.

The agreement does not insist that companies use local human rights, labor or religious groups that have the trust of the workers and knowledge of local conditions. Instead, the companies can use private accounting firms and merely "consult regularly" with local institutions. The "independence= " of such firms is demonstrated by Nike's contract with the accounting firm = of Ernst and,Young, which issues secret reports to Nike. Its monitoring has failed to prevent ongoing, systematic abuse by factories contracting to do production for Nike. As experience already has proven, employees working = in repressive situations are unlikely to speak openly to representives of fir= ms which are answerable only to the apparel companies.

THE RESULT OF THIS AGREEMENT is that apparel companies can continue to pay their workers 20 cents an hour for "regular" 60-hour work weeks, push them to do unlimited hours of "voluntary" overtime beyond that, monitor conditions via accounting firms which have no connections to the workers A= ND be rewarded for this behavior with a "no sweatshop" seal of approval.

The agreement produced by the Task Force demonstrates all too clearly that we cannot leave the fate of the world's apparel workers in the hands of presidential commissions. It is imperative that grassroots activists continue to support struggling factory workers, mobilize public opinion an= d pressure abusive corporations until workers at home and abroad are paid living wages and treated with dignity.


1. CONTACT THE WHITE HOUSE. Let it be known that you want meaningful standards for a "no sweat" label. A good place to begin is with wages. A= s noted above, the apparel industry situates its production in countries whe= re the minimum wage is widely acknowledged to be set below a livable rate sufficient to meet even the most basic needs of workers and their families= . In most cases, the legal minimum wage is barely half of what workers truly require. If the members of the Presidential Task Force wish to demonstrat= e sincerity, they should swiftly and publicly commit themselves to paying at least double the legal minimun in the countries where they produce. Further, they should commit themselves to having that new standard fully implemented during the six-month transition period of the agreement. Whit= e House comment line: 202-456-1111, fax: 202-456-2461, email: president@whitehouse.gov

2. CONTINUE TO SUPPORT CAMPAIGNS for the rights of working people around t= he world and here at home. Important campaigns being conducted at this time include: Nike, Disney, Guess, Starbucks, Hyundai in Tijuana, California strawberry growers, the Case Farms poultry processing plant in North Carolina and the FLAV-R-PAC and Gardenburger boycotts in support of Oregon farmworkers.

Sources of information on these campaigns:

Campaign for Labor Rights newsletter. Send $35 to 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. For a sample copy, contact clr@igc.apc.org or (541) 344-5410.

Watch our Labor Alerts/Labor News Service for more information.

Campaign for Labor Rights web site: http://www.compugraph.com/clr

Action packets: Contact Campaign for Labor Rights at clr@igc.apc.org or (541) 344-5410 and we will put you in touch with the organization which produces action packets for any of the campaigns which we support. In the case of the Nike campaign, Campaign for Labor Rights produces a constantly-revised action packet, available by email or in hard copy ($3 o= r $5 donation requested for hard copy version).

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