By  on July 6, 2007

WASHINGTON — A Guatemalan factory producing blouses for the apparel line of celebrity Daisy Fuentes and shirts for Wet Seal under alleged sweatshop conditions has signed an agreement to eliminate the abuses and comply with the country's labor laws.

The National Labor Committee, a labor and human rights watchdog group, said Thursday it had signed an "unprecedented" agreement to improve conditions with the factory, Fribo SA, located in rural Santa Maria Cauque, Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala, and one of the companies producing apparel there, P.A. Group LLC, maker of the Fuentes label. The Center for Studies and Support of Labor Development, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping workers in Guatemala, also signed the agreement and will meet weekly with Fribo's management team.

The NLC released a report in June claiming that TV host, model and actress Daisy Fuentes had been indirectly using Fribo, through contract work to the P.A. Group, to produce her private label clothing line, which is sold exclusively in Kohl's department stores. Shirts destined for Wet Seal were also found in the factory, the group claimed, as were products made for Maurices/Dress Barn, Filia, Pretty Girl and Rue 21.

Among the allegations were forced overtime (workers clocking in 60 hours a week), locked exit doors, filthy drinking water and dirty bathrooms. It was charged the company collected fees from workers for health care, maternity and pension benefits, but failed to pay the appropriate government agencies, thus depriving the workers of their paid-for benefits.

Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC, called the new agreement a "breakthrough."

"Essentially, Fribo has signed an agreement to bring the factory into full compliance with all Guatemalan labor laws so everyone will receive proper overtime pay, the bathrooms will be clean, there will be clean drinking water, workers will be inscribed in the social security and pension plan and any harassment will cease immediately," said Kernaghan. "In rural areas in Guatemala where unions have been crushed by repression, this is quite a symbolic step forward in that it lifts the veil of terror where workers up to this point…might lose their jobs because U.S. labels pulled out."

Kernaghan said P.A. Group, which does not keep production in the factory full-time, has agreed to "put production back in the factory contingent upon concrete implementation" of the compliance agreement and improvements.He said he was also seeking to have Wet Seal and the other labels that used the factory in the past sign the agreement.

A spokesman for P.A. Group said the company does not currently have any production in the Fribo factory but signed the agreement to help rectify the situation.

A Kohl's spokeswoman said in a statement that the company has pulled the Fuentes apparel in question from all of its stores nationwide as well as from its own e-commerce site, kohls.com.

"The number of removed items was extremely limited. We will not sell merchandise that is produced in unauthorized factories," the spokeswoman said.

But she said Kohl's urged PA Group to work with the Fribo factory to bring it into compliance and said it might be cleared for production if it met the rigid standards of the agreement and conditions improved significantly.

"We encourage PA Group LLC to comply with Kohl's normal procedure for factory authorizations and are confident that if the Fribo factory meets Kohl's requirements regarding working conditions, wages and benefits, working hours, nondiscrimination, compliance with laws and others it would be considered for future production," a Kohl's spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

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