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NEW YORK — Anti-sweatshop activists were busy spreading some sarcastic holiday jeer Tuesday.
With “Jingle Bell Rock” blaring as background music, 200 protesters rallied outside Brylane’s Seventh Avenue offices to shout about alleged sweatshop abuses in factories that make merchandise for the catalog. Organized by UNITE, the event unveiled the Brylane Sweatshop Holiday Catalog 2002, a spoof on the company’s real catalog, and a fashion show featuring former Brylane factory workers wearing the clothes they helped make. Poor working conditions, abusive treatment by factory management and pay that was below minimum wage were some of their charges.
Instead of models, UNITE photographed the former employees and highlighted their complaints and alleged injuries from working conditions. The text on one page, for example, claims 1 in 10 workers at Brylane suffers from a repetitive motion injury, along with images of 25-year-old Karen Ricco showing off her scar from surgery. Catalog readers are encouraged to contact UNITE’s toll-free number or Web site at behindthelabel.org.
The catalog will be shipped to “tens of thousands” of shoppers, including some culled from Brylane’s mailing list, said UNITE president Bruce Raynor. The labor group thought a catalog would be the best way to address the allegations, since Brylane does not have any stores to picket, he said. Raynor also noted UNITE has enough addresses to target more than 100,000 Brylane customers before the end of the year.
For months, UNITE has targeted Brylane’s Indianapolis distribution center, its New York offices and other fashion houses owned by French conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, Brylane’s parent company, as part of an organizing campaign. In September, the National Labor Relations Board struck down a petition by Brylane LP to hold a secret-ballot election at its distribution center to decide whether or not to form a union. The ruling determined that was out of the question since UNITE had not formally asked for an election to unionize.
During Tuesday’s half-hour protest, Raynor criticized Brylane executives for “hiding in their offices.” Brylane officials could not be reached for comment.