CLAIBORNE FETED FOR SWEATSHOP FIGHT
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — A national consumer group has honored Liz Claiborne Inc. for its anti-sweatshop efforts and policies.
At an awards dinner here last week, the National Consumers League gave Claiborne a Trumpeter Award, which recognizes efforts on behalf of consumer and worker rights and against social injustice.
This was the first time in the 25 years the NCL has been giving the award that a company has been honored. The NCL, founded in 1899, is the nation’s oldest consumer organization and is more often critical of corporate policies than complimentary.
Claiborne is one of eight apparel and footwear firms serving on the White House anti-sweatshop task force, which is developing a blueprint for monitoring factories worldwide for proper working conditions. The NCL is one of 14 consumer, human rights, religious and labor groups, as well as federal agencies, represented on the panel.
Paul Charron, chairman and chief executive officer of Claiborne, accepted the award for the company, and in remarks to attendees talked about the task force’s global undertaking.
“I will not overstate our progress,” he said. “No one company or organization like the [task force] can fundamentally alter conditions in countries that are battling social problems like poverty and illiteracy, or primitive housing and health care. There is a long way to go. But Liz Claiborne does believe it is our responsibility as a large corporation to leverage our size and our name to effect positive change.”
Charron made reference to the task force’s disparate membership, which has made it a challenging task to structure a monitoring program that passes muster with industry as well as human rights and labor interests. The task force has been wrangling over this issue for about 1 1/2 years and is operating under a November deadline, imposed by President Clinton, to finish.
“The [task force] provides a forum for mutual understanding of each member organization’s goals,” Charron said. “Each partner will inevitably have different viewpoints, but the [task force] provides a means of resolving those differences so as to protect the overall goal — insuring decent and just treatment of the people who produce our merchandise.”
Maria Echaveste, director of the White House office of Public Liaison, who’s been involved in the sweatshop issue since working in the Labor Department as administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, introduced Charron at the dinner. In an interview, Echaveste applauded Claiborne officials’ corporate ideals.
“They start with a philosophy and sense of responsibility that many corporations do not have,” Echaveste said. “They are willing to be visible on the [sweatshop] issue when so many companies are not.”
Also receiving an award was Carol Tucker Forman, founder of the Safe Food Coalition, who’s campaigned for tougher federal food safety regulations.
Last year’s Trumpeter Award recipient was former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Previous recipients have been the late Cesar Chavez, president of the United Farm Workers; David Kessler, former administrator of the Food and Drug Administration, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa).