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Advocacy Group Finds Violations At Bangladesh Apparel Factory

Harvest Rich, a Bangladesh factory that makes apparel for companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Hanesbrands Inc., has been accused of worker beatings, use of child labor and other violations by the National Labor Committee, an advocacy group.

WASHINGTON — Harvest Rich, a Bangladesh factory that makes apparel for companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Hanesbrands Inc., has been accused of worker beatings, use of child labor and other violations by the National Labor Committee, an advocacy group.

Based on four months of research and interviews with workers, the report was put together with the help of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity. The National Labor Committee engages in fact-finding missions to expose and document labor and human rights abuses and raise public awareness.

The labor group, in its report, “Child Labor Is Back: Children Are Again Sewing Clothing for Major U.S. Companies,” estimated that 200 to 300 children — some 11 years old or younger — work at the Harvest Rich plant in the Narayanganj district, and that children are beaten and forced to work for as long as 20 hours at a time for wages as low as 6.5 cents an hour.

Wal-Mart, in a separate investigation, said it found excessive overtime and unpaid benefits at the factory, but no child labor or beatings. The Harvest Rich Web site maintains that the company does not employ children.

“We have been monitoring this factory very carefully, including three audits in the past three months, including unannounced audits, and we have not seen any underage labor in this factory,” said a Wal-Mart spokeswoman in Bentonville, Ark.

The retailer has been looking specifically at the factory since reports of abuses recently surfaced in the U.K.

“We’ve invited factory management to come here to Bentonville in the near future to discuss their factory practices,” said the spokeswoman.

Wal-Mart has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding child labor, she said.

“The allegations are absolutely behavior and conduct that we are categorically opposed to,” said a Hanesbrands spokesman, who noted the company commissioned two unannounced audits at the factory last week and did not find child workers. “We definitely want to work at this and figure out why there is this discrepancy,” he said, noting the company is sending executives to evaluate the plant.

“When the monitors were showing up, the children workers were being hid in the bathroom or out on the fire escapes or sent home earlier,” said Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee. “Something’s seriously wrong with the monitoring capability of these companies. I had no trouble finding the child workers.”

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The labor group, which said Puma and J.C. Penney also use the factory, advised against a mass firing of the underage workers. Penney’s did not return phone calls, and a Puma spokeswoman had no comment.

“The U.S. companies owe these children better,” the report said. “The companies must provide these children with wage stipends to replace their lost salaries and also a modest education stipend, so these kids can return to school where they belong.”

The report said Harvest Rich fired more than 100 child workers recently but told them to return to the factory this Saturday.