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Activists to Target Disneyland in Protest of Sweatshops

October 08, 2002|MEG JAMES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stepping up a campaign against Walt Disney Co., activists on Monday charged that workers--some as young as 10 years old--labored for more than 13 hours a day stitching Winnie the Pooh shirts at a Bangladesh factory.

During the last two weeks, the National Labor Committee for Human Rights has picketed outside Disney Stores in Chicago, New York and Nashville to protest what they say are low pay and poor working conditions at factories turning out Disney-themed merchandise. Today, they plan to demonstrate at Disneyland in Anaheim.

On Monday, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, who owns the rights to Pooh merchandise and is locked in a bitter royalty lawsuit with Disney, sobbed at a news conference in Beverly Hills as Lisa Rahman, 19, described life inside the Dhaka factory. Rahman said she toiled at the factory for three years, earning as little as 8 cents an hour.

"None of us wants to profit from human suffering," said Lasswell, 81. Her attorney, Bertram Fields, said his team is researching whether to incorporate the allegations into its lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in March. Lasswell and her daughter, Patricia Slesinger, have received more than $66 million from Disney since 1961 for the sale of Pooh merchandise.

Burbank-based Disney maintains that the company is being unfairly targeted. "We feel that we have one of the best international labor standards programs in the world," spokesman Gary Foster said. "We take these issues very seriously."

He said Disney spends millions each year investigating and enforcing its code of work standards, auditing about 25,000 factories in 50 countries. Disney-hired auditors visited the Dhaka factory 11 times and could not substantiate charges of worker abuse, Foster said.

Since 1997, Disney has set up a computerized tracking system to monitor its merchandise contracts and conditions. The company also requires that Disney work be pulled from factories that fail three audits.

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