Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — An anti-sweatshop bill that would make manufacturers and retailers liable if their contractors don’t abide by minimum wage and child labor laws is being prepared and is expected to be introduced in the House next month.
Sponsored by William Clay (D., Mo.), the bill is backed by UNITE — the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees — as part of its anti-sweatshop campaign.
The measure is not likely to be considered by the Republican-led Congress this year, sources said. Instead, it will be introduced to give backers time to build support and pressure the industry to avoid disreputable contractors, they said.
Regarding retailers, the measure would apply only to those who contract work for their own store brands. Retailers who sell only outside labels would not be affected.
Under the plan, retailers and apparel manufacturers would not be required to keep employment records for their contractors but would be subject to civil penalties under the Fair Labor Standards Act if employment records aren’t kept for contract work and violations are found.
“This is an attempt to hold manufacturers accountable for contractors and to encourage the use of reputable contractors,” said a House aide drafting the legislation.
Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said the legislation is not needed because apparel makers already are liable for employment standards maintained by contractors under the hot goods provision. Under that provision, items made under working conditions outlawed by the FLSA can’t be sold in interstate commerce.
Steve Pfister, vice president and director of political affairs for the National Retail Federation, called the measure “misguided” and said retailers would wage a tough fight against it.
“Retailers have strong language in all of their contracts with apparel makers that stipulates that all goods they buy be made in accordance with all applicable laws. It’s up to the Department of Labor to monitor and ferret out the bad actors in the industry,” Pfister said.
Morrison Cain, vice president and legal and public affairs counsel for the International Mass Retail Federation, said the Clay plan “has all the problems that we’ve already told the Department of Labor about.”
“The retailer does not choose and is not positioned to supervise the production process of garments,” he said. “It is unreasonable and unfair to impose liability on retailers for things they neither know nor control. If the goal is to drive production out of the U.S., that’s a good way to do it.”
The administration has not seen the planned legislation. Under the leadership of Labor Secretary Robert Reich, the administration has mounted its own anti-sweatshop campaign, having put together what it calls a Trendsetters list of retailers and manufacturers who are actively working against sweatshops by monitoring contractors.
It currently is launching a public service ad program, urging consumers to ask stores how the clothes they sell are made.
Evelyn Dubrow, vice president and legislative director of UNITE, said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) would be asked to introduce the bill in the Senate.
“The terrible thing is that sweatshops are competing with decent employers and retailers who are willing to pay decent wages and have good working conditions,” she said.
— Fairchild News Service

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