COSTS UNKNOWN FACTOR IN ANTI-SWEATSHOP PLAN
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — When President Clinton’s anti-sweatshop task force today unveils its plan to create a body to govern a worldwide monitoring system of apparel and footwear factories, one question the panel won’t be able to answer is: What’s the cost?
The program’s price tag is just one of many concerns that apparel and retail industry officials are raising about the panel’s sweeping plans to rid U.S. stores of garments and shoes made in substandard working conditions. Like many issues still to be attacked by the task force, exactly who will pay and how much are yet to be figured out.
“This hasn’t been done before,” said Maria Echaveste, director of public liaison at the White House, of the panel’s plans, which are still more of a concept than an actual blueprint. “Obviously more work needs to be done.”
The task force, slated to present its report to President Clinton in a White House ceremony, plans to meet for six more months to fill in the missing pieces of what’s being described as a groundbreaking proposal.
Over the last eight months, the 23-person task force — a combination of industry, labor and human rights officials — has squared off over how best to police the myriad of production sites around the globe. They’ve developed a code of conduct for companies and their contractors to follow, an internal monitoring system to insure the code is being followed and a sketchy plan for employing outside monitors who would verify the company-sponsored monitors are doing their jobs.
The most controversial parts of the plan are still up for discussion, including: Who gets to be the external monitors; what will be their responsibilities and what will be the makeup and duties of an association that would govern the monitoring program.
And for the apparel and footwear retailing, manufacturing and importing industries, whose businesses are built on producing, shipping and selling goods quickly, such issues are of monumental concern.
“I assume the plan is to require approval and review of your monitoring program for a fee. Then there’s the question of what the fee would be and how often it would have to be renewed. Sounds to me like a dandy little bureaucracy,” said Morrison Cain, vice president, legal and public affairs, International Mass Retail Association.
“Cost, of course, will always be an issue,” said Tracy Mullin, president, National Retail Federation. “Ultimately, consumers will pay for any increased costs.”
Task force member Pharis Harvey, executive director, International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund, said he expects the monitoring program to work on a fee-for-service system that would involve participants as the primary funders. But other than that, he said it’s too early to forecast funding.
One thing Harvey said he wants to avoid is creating a bureaucracy. Instead, he envisions a system in which a network of smaller, community-based entities would be created and, after weeding out bogus complaints, they would notify companies of violations of the accepted code of conduct.”