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Lawmakers Urge 'No Sweat' Clothing Tags

Retailing: Label would certify that child labor wasn't used. Three prominent firms deny charges.

May 30, 1996|D'JAMILA SALEM-FITZGERALD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Responding to reports that U.S. retail chains are selling imported garments produced by underage workers, key House members Wednesday urged the clothing industry to affix tags to its products certifying that they were not produced by child labor.

The National Labor Committee, a human rights advocacy group, meanwhile, accused three prominent clothing marketers, Eddie Bauer, J. Crew and Kmart, of selling clothing made by underage Honduran workers. The group, which last month singled out Wal-Mart's Kathie Lee clothing line for similar criticism, said the discount chain's Jaclyn Smith signature line is also made by children.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the advocacy group, said J. Crew and Eddie Bauer clothing is produced in Honduras by Global Fashions, the same company the organization said manufactured the Kathie Lee Gifford line. Kernaghan said Kmart's Jaclyn Smith line is produced in the Seolim factory in the small town of Baracoa, Honduras. He said child laborers there are mistreated.

But representatives of all three companies vigorously denied the allegations.

"When the Kathie Lee accusations came out, we went back to our records of several years," said Cheryl Engstrom of Eddie Bauer. "We looked at all our contractors and found no relationship with Global Fashion."

Robert Bernard, president of J. Crew, said his company checked its records as far back as 1992 and found no orders placed with the Honduran company. "We called our subcontractors and got their assurances that they don't do any business with Global Fashion."

Bernard said J. Crew "demands written statements that no child or convict labor is used in manufacturing our goods. You only have one good name. We believe strongly in that name. We wouldn't do anything to tarnish it."

Kmart spokeswoman Michele Jasukaitis called the accusations "completely false."

"None of Jaclyn Smith's clothing line is even manufactured in Honduras," she said.

Wal-Mart, which distributes the Gifford line, initially denied that Global Fashions employed child workers and later severed its ties with the company, according to the rights group.

At Wednesday's news conference, the National Labor Committee introduced a 15-year-old Honduran girl, Wendy Diaz, who said that she was abused, sexually harassed and forced to work overtime during her two years at Global Fashions.

California Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) urged retailers to adopt a "No Sweat" label that companies could use to assure customers that their products were not made by exploited child workers.

"The time has come for parents to have a right to know that the toys and garments that they buy their children were not made by other exploited children," Miller said.

Robin Lanier, vice president for the International Mass Retailers Assn., which represents more than 170 high-volume, low-price retailers, questioned the feasibility of a label.

"Everyone is sympathetic to the problem. A Good Housekeeping type of seal would be terrific. . . . But it gets very complicated. I don't know that it would work in practical terms, as much as people would like it to."

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