DOWNGRADE FOR ST. JOHN:Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services downgraded the outlook for St. John Knits International Inc. on Tuesday to negative from stable. The ratings firm said weak operating performance in fiscal 2003 resulted in lower-than-expected credit protection measures at the apparel manufacturer. Revenues rose due to new retail stores, but wholesale and retail sales on a same-store basis were lower, the ratings firm said. “The ratings on St. John Knits International Inc. reflect the company’s weak financial profile, including its high leverage [and] its narrow focus on high-end women’s knitwear apparel, as well as its channel and customer concentration,” Standard & Poor’s said. “These factors are offset, to a certain extent, by the company’s established brand image.” The ratings firm affirmed the company’s “B-plus” corporate credit rating and its “B-plus” secured debt as well as its “B-minus” subordinated debt rating.

CRACKING DOWN ON CHILD LABOR: The U.S. Department of Labor, the International Labor Organization and the government of India have launched a $40 million project to combat the use of exploitative child labor in India in 10 hazardous industries, including silk, footwear, bangles, bricks and brassware. The DOL and Indian government have each dedicated $20 million toward the “INDUS project,” which is the largest international technical assistance program under DOL’s umbrella. The project, which will be administered by the ILO, will be implemented in 20 districts in four Indian states. At least 20 countries abuse child labor in the production of textiles, apparel and footwear, as well as jewelry through gold and diamond mining, according to the DOL. Aside from India, they include Pakistan, Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Turkey, Chile and Swaziland.

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