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Trendy, Yes, but Trendsetter?

November 14, 1996|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Guess Inc. a good guy?

The Labor Department is likely to render an opinion on the beleaguered Los Angeles jeans maker by Nov. 27, when the agency is scheduled to unveil its new Trendsetter list. The list is a roster of supposed "good guy" apparel manufacturers and retailers that regulators judge to be taking extra steps to avoid doing business with sweatshops.

Although Guess has been on the list since the list was established in December, the company was a controversial choice. It signed a groundbreaking agreement with the federal government in 1992 pledging to monitor the working conditions at the contractor shops where its garments are sewn--but only after federal regulators threatened to take action against Guess for selling goods allegedly made in sweatshops.

In recent months, controversy has reemerged. Among other things, the company and many of its contractors were hit with a union-sponsored lawsuit accusing them of cheating workers out of wages and condoning illegal child labor.

Maria Echaveste, administrator of the Labor Department's wage and hour division, said the agency is also looking into other allegations in the suit, among them whether Guess' workplace monitors took bribes from contractors to ignore labor abuses.

She said the aim of the department's review is not just to decide if Guess belongs on the Trendsetter list, but to assess the integrity and effectiveness of the company's monitoring program.

Stanley W. Levy, a lawyer for Guess, called its workplace-monitoring program the most comprehensive in the nation and said the company has fired contractors for trying to bribe its monitors. Moreover, he said Guess "completely and unequivocally" denies the allegations of wrongdoing in the lawsuit.

Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein can be reached by phone at (213) 237-7887 or by e-mail at stuart.silverstein@latimes.com

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