LABOR’S GOOD-GUY LIST CRITICIZED AT MEETING IN LA
Byline: Kristi Ellis
LOS ANGELES — U.S. Labor Department officials attending an apparel industry seminar here Thursday were greeted with criticism of the agency’s anti-sweatshop good-guy list.
A representative of a group of manufacturers here who have set up their own contractor-monitoring program in conjunction with Labor charged that the list will only add to divisiveness between retailers and vendors. Furthermore, a worker group protested one of the names on the list. The seminar, sponsored by the California Fashion Association and held at the California Mart, was on labor law compliance and drew more than 100 people. Labor Secretary Robert Reich was scheduled to attend, but had to cancel at the last minute, and Maria Echaveste, Labor’s Wage and Hour administrator, spoke in his place.
As reported, Labor’s list, which it calls its Trendsetters List, spotlights the names of 31 retailers and manufacturers who the agency says have taken outstanding efforts to insure that U.S.-made apparel in the stores is produced under law-abiding, nonsweatshop conditions. The main qualification to make the list revolves around the monitoring of contractors. The list, released Tuesday, has such names as Guess, Liz Claiborne, Jessica McClintock, Levi Strauss, Limited Inc. and Nordstrom, among others.
“This list is counterproductive,” said Richard Reinis, an attorney and acting executive director of Compliance Alliance, the group of 12 manufacturers who jointly monitor contractors. “It is creating a greater gap between us and retailers that do not want to be involved in compliance [efforts]. So if you want to help us, then the way to do it is by not publishing lists that separate us.”
Reinis argued that retailers have lashed out at manufacturers instead of engaging in a constructive dialog.
“We are not interested in having retailers involved in this if they are going to terminate their relationship with us, cancel our orders or sue us,” he said. He called for Labor to assist in setting up a productive dialog “that allows manufacturers to pay people fair wages.”
Ronald Perilman, president of City Girl, a 40-year-old Los Angeles-based manufacturer, was more supportive of the list because it creates attention to abuses. “But you have to understand that you have to help us,” he declared. “You have to do something about goods coming into this country from other nations that do not comply. You have to do something about…the stores that don’t want to take responsibility…for demanding prices that we can’t meet.”
The meeting also had its moment of drama when screaming members of an aggressive advocacy organization disrupted it and called for San Francisco-based Jessica McClintock’s name to be taken off of the list. The Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA) has led a boycott against McClintock, because she has refused to pay back wages owed by a contractor she used in the past, although she did make a donation to the workers.
Echaveste defended her department’s choice of “good guys.” Calling the list a “work-in-progress,” Echaveste said that the department wanted to focus on positives rather than negatives such as the El Monte case, in which investigators found 72 Thai nationals in August allegedly living in slave-like conditions. The case has spurred a barrage of publicity and calls for more regulations in the past few months.
“The idea was to recognize those retailers and manufacturers who have taken the extra step,” claimed Echaveste. “I cannot tell you how many have not acknowledged the problem, claiming that there aren’t sweatshops in this country or that they are very rare. That’s not the reality.”
She added that Labor plans to release more lists in the future and will accept and review all applications.