(en) GUESS? who's lying

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Fri, 12 Dec 1997 01:26:10 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 22:28:39 -0800 (PST) To: CLR All Campaign e-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: GUESS? who's lying

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While a national debate is taking place over the issue of "no sweat" labeling, who should decide unilaterally to label its own apparel "100% guaranteed sweatshop free" but one of the most notorious sweatshop corporations, Guess? The infamous Guess already is on the National Labor Committee's list of 9 "greediest" companies. The labeling and ads described in the L.A. Times story, below, would seem to merit some special treatment for Guess. Local activists participating in Holiday Season of Conscience activities might consider asking stores which carry Guess' falsely labeled "sweatshop free" apparel to remove those items. Stores that refuse to remove the deceptively labeled clothing might be the focus of informational leafleting. Also, check your local newspaper for deceptive Guess ads. If any have been run in your community, contact the newspaper and seek a retraction. You also could write letters to the editor, to alert other consumers about the truth behind Guess' ads. It is truly an outrage that one of the most thoroughly documented sweatshop abusers should take unfair advantage of those consumers who wish to buy products made under fair labor conditions.

[Thanks to Stop Sweatshops News for alerting us to the following article: web site: www.UNITEunion.org StopSweatshops@UNITEunion.org]

Government Berates GUESS over Ads on Labor Practices Apparel: At issue are claims that contractors are "100% guaranteed sweatshop free." Firm defends its monitoring program.

Stuart Silverstein Los Angeles Times December 10, 1997

The Labor Department, in an unusual move, has sharply criticized West Los Angeles-based clothing manufacturer Guess Inc. for saying in newspaper advertisements that its sewing contractors are "100% guaranteed sweatshop free."

In a letter released Tuesday, the department also scolded the company for claiming in fliers distributed to shoppers that it is on the government's "Trendsetter" list of clothing manufacturers and retailers. The Trendsetter roster, an initiative launched by the Labor Department to combat sweatshop abuses, consists of companies deemed by the government to be taking extra steps to ensure that their contractors are obeying labor laws.

Guess had been a member of the list but was downgraded to probationary status a year ago after federal inspectors determined that contractors working for Guess and other clothing manufacturers violated wage laws and owed employees tens of thousands of dollars.

For Guess, the biggest clothing manufacturer in Southern California, the Labor Department's criticism is another in a series of disputes with government authorities related to workplace practices. Just last month, Guess was accused by the National Labor Relations Board of illegal firings and other unfair labor practices in an effort to thwart a union-organizing drive among its workers.

Coming in the midst of the holiday shopping season, which is crucial to Guess and its competitors in the clothing business, the Labor Department letter also could hinder the company's effort to bounce back from its disappointing financial results recently.

Bill Barnes, a Guess spokesman, said the company is "giving serious consideration" to the issues raised by the Labor Department. He said Guess has not decided whether it will continue to run the ads and, if so, whether they will be revised to satisfy the government's objections. The Guess ads began appearing last week in such papers as the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post and Newsday.

Barnes added, however, that Guess' program for monitoring its contractors is "exemplary." He said the Guess contractors have come under extraordinary scrutiny because of a "political and public relations campaign of lies and misinformation" by UNITE, the union seeking to represent Guess workers.

Labor Department officials declined to say what they might do if Guess continues with its "no sweat" ads and related publicity efforts. "We have made a good faith request and assume that Guess will comply," said department spokesman David M. Saltz.

Guess' ads - and similar promotional tags on its jeans and other garments - also came under criticism from union and state officials.

"Guess' use of a 'guaranteed 100% freee of sweatshop labor' tag on its clothing is a deceptive act that the public cannot rely on. Guess' contractors have broken the law, and Guess is not in a position to give any kind of guarantee at all," said Steve Nutter, Western regional director of UNITE.

Jose Millan, California's labor commissioner, objected to a passage in the Guess ads that claim that after review by state and federal authorities over the last 12 months, "Guess contractors are 100% guaranteed sweatshop free and in full compliance with fair labor standard laws."

Millan said, "I've never reviewed their [Guess'] program, neither has anyone in our agency."

The newspaper ads carry the headline, "Guess Supports "No Sweat" Campaign of Alexis Herman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor."

The ads also mention that guess five years ago "initiated the very first voluntary monitoring program of apparel contractors in the United States with the U.S. Department of Labor." The ads, however, neglected to mention the federal government found last year that the company's monitoring program was ineffective.

The government letter to the company, signed by Marvin Krislov, the Washington-based deputy solicitor for national operations for the Labor Department, asked Guess to "please refrain from representations that imply that the Department has endorsed your company and that Guess? ensure that all references to statements made by Department officials are accurate and in context."

Krislov wrote that the language of Guess' recent advertisements "implies that the Department of Labor has in some manner certified Guess?'s compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. As you are aware, that is not the case."

Mike Lange, communications manager for the Los Angeles Times, said if Guess wants to continue running the ad, the newspaper "will check out the claims and talk to the advertiser" before deciding whether to continue publishing it.

"Our general policy," Lange added, "is to question and, if necessary, reject ads that contain obvious inaccuracies. Beyond that, we certainly respond to any challenges that are brought to our attention regarding the accuracy of information or claims within ads."

Last month, Guess reported that its third-quarter net income fell 20% from a year earlier to $13.1 million on revenue that declined 7.8% to $142.4 million.

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