SWEATSHOP TASK FORCE POSTPONES MEETING

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The meeting called by the White House of the President’s task force on sweatshops scheduled for today has been postponed until Monday because of scheduling conflicts.
The session is considered crucial in determining the future of the task force, whose mission is to work out a global anti-sweatshop blueprint for the retail and apparel industries. Stymied over the issue of how to monitor contractor plants and other points, the 23-member panel of industry, labor and human rights officials has long passed its six-month deadline set by President Clinton in August. And labor and human rights groups are said to be at loggerheads with industry panel members.
While declining to detail them, Roberta Karp, general counsel and vice president of corporate affairs, Liz Claiborne, and task force co-chairperson, acknowledged there are areas of disagreement. “There’s been progress made; whether it’s to everyone’s satisfaction remains to be seen, but I am hopeful,” she said.
“There is resolve on behalf of industry leaders to address these issues in a meaningful way, and we hope it will continue through the partnership,” Karp said. “By definition there will be tension created by the diversity of interests, but that’s what creates a more credible product, and that’s why we joined this in the first place.”
Jay Mazur, president of UNITE, characterized the task force as being at a “very delicate stage.”
“Hopefully we can come to an agreement,” he said. “UNITE is committed to the process. We think it’s the direction of the future, the way the world is going.”
In the debate over the monitoring of contractor plants for labor violations, the labor/human rights contingent is pressing for community-based groups who are in touch with factory workers to be central in any program, sources said. They also want monitoring efforts to be underwritten, at least in part, by the industry as a business expense, according to sources. Such outside monitoring, particularly in Third World countries, is considered essential by the labor and human rights panel members in order to keep tabs on factory conditions and wages.
For their part, industry panel members said they’ll support some form of monitoring, but they have opposed having myriad local groups in a wide-ranging number of countries pass judgment on factory conditions, according to sources. They also bristle at the notion of levying some kind of fee for the inspections.

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