Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — Consumers are shifting slightly in their feelings about garment sweatshops, putting a bit more of the onus for ending them on retailers.
However, manufacturers by far are still seen as bearing the major responsibility; furthermore, while most consumers say they wouldn’t shop at stores that sell sweatshop goods, all the publicity about sweatshops doesn’t seem to be having any greater impact than previously on shopping habits.
That’s the conclusion of a new survey released Tuesday by Marymount University, Arlington, Va. It’s done by the university’s Center for Ethical Concerns and its department of Fashion Design and Merchandising,
The survey showed that 10 percent of the consumers questioned hold retailers responsible for sweatshop conditions, against 7 percent in a similar study done by the university last year. At the same time, 70 percent of the respondents held manufacturers responsible, against 76 percent in the earlier survey.
However, the number of consumers who said they would be more likely to shop at a store that assisted law enforcement in ending sweatshops declined this year, to 63 percent from 69 percent last year. The percentage of respondents who said they would avoid retailers that sold sweatshop garments stayed about the same, with 79 percent saying they would avoid such stores compared to 78 percent last year.
Conducted Nov. 8-12, the telephone survey is based on the responses of 1,023 randomly selected people, about evenly divided between men and women. It was released just a day before the Labor Department is scheduled to release its twice-a-year listing of retailers putting forth what the government considers outstanding efforts to combat sweatshops. The list is expected to include a broader list of “major retailers” who are effectively tackling the sweatshop problem, a source said.
In anticipation of today’s release of what Labor calls its Trendsetters list, the survey showed that fewer people than before would base their shopping decisions on the Labor Department’s report. According to the survey, a third of the respondents said the Trendsetter list would have no effect on where they shop, compared to 27 percent last year. Also, fewer people said this year they would be more likely to shop at a store that the government says is cooperating in an anti-sweatshop campaign.
The percentage of consumers willing to pay a dollar more for a garment that costs $20, if it were guaranteed to be made in a legitimate shop, dropped slightly from 84 percent last year to 83 percent this year.
National Retail Federation president Tracy Mullin said the survey illustrates what it said last year. “Consumers want to shop at stores that share their high ethical standards and fairness, which is what the National Retail Federation wants to do,” she said. Otherwise, Mullin said, the slight changes over last year were not indicative of any great changes in consumer attitudes.
“I’m not convinced it has any dramatic findings in it,” she said. “We all know sweatshops are an issue that retailers are involved in and are working to prevent.”