By and  on February 26, 2009

WASHINGTON — The National Labor Committee, a labor rights watchdog group, alleged Wednesday that a factory outside Guatemala City was producing apparel for Lane Bryant and Briggs New York under sweatshop conditions.

Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC, said the mostly female staff at the Nicotex factory are forced to work overtime, work for subsistence wages, are denied health care and maternity leave and do not receive vacation time, severance pay or bonuses. The findings were the result of a joint report by the NLC and the Center for Studies & Support for Local Development.

Charming Shoppes Inc., Lane Bryant’s parent company, said it was “surprised and highly disappointed” by the findings of the report and is doing everything it can to investigate and identify any issues with the factory.

“We intend to work closely with the factory and domestic vendor in an effort to improve labor standards for the benefit of the factory workers,” the company said.

A spokeswoman for Kellwood Co., Briggs New York’s parent company, said the firm is investigating the allegations.

The report said workers in the factory earn between 76 cents and $1.15 an hour, which the NLC said is not a subsistence wage.

“Women in the U.S. are unknowingly purchasing clothing made by other women who are being exploited,” the NLC said.

The committee also alleged that the Nicotex example was further proof the labor provisions of the Central American Free Trade Agreement have not been sufficiently enforced.

“CAFTA has certainly not empowered workers through respect for their legal rights, nor has it helped raise them out of extreme poverty,” the NLC said.

The World Trade Organization said in a recent report that despite preferential access to Guatemala under CAFTA, apparel exports and jobs in the country have been on a downward trend.

The report found that apparel shipments from Guatemala declined 7.9 percent from 2005 to 2007 to $1.36 billion of the total $4.5 billion in merchandise exports. Employment in the apparel, textile and footwear sector declined to 17.2 percent of the labor force in 2006 from 20.8 percent in 2001, the report said.

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