Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Further beefing up his anti-sweatshop campaign, Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pulled into the battle the National Consumers League, a highly visible advocacy group involved in a broad range of issues.
At a press conference Monday, Reich officially unveiled his agency’s public service ad campaign, which, as reported, is designed to increase pressure on retailers to accede to Labor’s plan for eradicating sweatshops. The print and radio ads urge consumers to ask retailers whether the garments they sell are made in sewing shops that are monitored for Labor law abuses.
In addition to the ads being mailed to 10,000 newspapers and magazines and 100 radio stations, Reich disclosed the consumer and union effort led by the National Consumers League. The group has signed on 26 other organizations, representing 50 million people, who will in turn be asked to send retailers preprinted postcards asking questions about the source of their domestic apparel and urging them to take steps to guarantee their garments are manufactured “under decent conditions.”
“Consumers want to buy clothes from catalogs, shops and stores without the fear they have been made in sweatshops,” said Linda Golodner, NCL president, also speaking at the news conference. The NCL’s lobbying efforts have covered issues ranging from safety of ground beef to the government’s selling of the airwaves.
The public service ad campaign — which has been attacked by several retailer and apparel manufacturer representatives — and the postcards are what Reich, Golodner and unionists hope will transcend into a groundswell of shoppers needling stores and manufacturers on the sweatshop issue.
Labor officials say they have just started circulating the public service ads and haven’t yet gotten commitments to run the spots free of charge. The postcard campaign is expected to get underway within the next week.
Morrison Cain, vice president, legal and public affairs for the International Mass Retail Association, said he didn’t expect the public service ad or postcard campaigns to change retailers’ policies. “Companies are already fairly sensitive to the issue and are taking reasonable steps already,” he said.
Among these steps are requiring vendors, under the threat of losing business, to ensure they buy goods that are produced in accordance with the law, a step that falls short of Reich’s call for sewing shop monitoring. “Retailers clearly aren’t equipped to do that,” he said.
Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation, said the ad campaign is an example of the agency’s insistence “on embarking on one failed media campaign after another.”
In a statement, Mullin reiterated the department and specialty store industry’s anti-sweatshop commitment of choosing reputable suppliers and requiring in contracts that suppliers obey the law. — Fairchild News Service

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