ANTI-SWEATSHOP TASK FORCE MEETS, RUNS INTO OVERTIME

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The President’s anti-sweatshop task force met here into the evening Monday after apparently finding some common ground to continue talking.
The closed-door meeting, held at the Washington offices of the Arnold & Porter law firm, was considered by several members on the panel as crucial to the success or failure of the panel’s work. Going into the session, members from labor and human rights groups were at odds with those from the apparel industry over details of recommendations for a complex plan to monitor apparel factories worldwide that produce for the U.S. market.
“I think the talks were again very constructive,” said task force member Stan Levy, leaving the meeting around 4 p.m. to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. Levy, an attorney representing several apparel companies, declined to elaborate.
The meeting started in the late morning and was scheduled to end at 3 p.m. but continued for hours afterward with panel members ordering in food late in the afternoon.
The 23-member task force was named in August by President Clinton to devise a system by which consumers will be able to know whether the apparel, as well as footwear, they buy is made under humane conditions. Such a mandate, according to sources, has led the panel into wide-ranging talks, leading into such discussions as to what defines a sweatshop and how best to determine what are proper wages.
The task force has been discussing the creation of an association to which manufacturers, as well as retailers operating as manufacturers, would belong.
Members of the body would agree to a set of manufacturing codes of conduct and a system of monitoring the contractors they use to produce apparel or footwear.
The monitoring would involve inspections by the individual companies. The public interest groups and labor also want monitoring to be done by outside parties unrelated to the manufacturers. These would include officials from labor, human rights, religious and other groups in the locale where the factories are located.
Having independent monitors is considered a must by panel members from labor and human rights groups, who argue that having outside parties involved in inspections creates a transparent system of checks and balances.
However, outside monitoring has been a sticking point for industry panel members, who have been concerned about accountability and confidentiality of these independent monitors.
Officials from the labor and human rights’ camp have worked to assuage these concerns by proposing that a strict set of criteria would be established to accredit outside monitors.
Furthermore, a set of guidelines for factory inspections would also be required for outside monitors to follow and their work would be kept confidential.

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