Blog: Leonie BarrieSweatshop in Queens

Leonie Barrie | 24 July 2008

All too often we hear about worker exploitation in overseas apparel factories,  which perhaps gives us the glow of satisfaction that all’s well in those facilities that manage to cling on in the face of adversity in supposedly developed countries.

And the impression that poor working conditions just couldn’t happen on our own doorsteps is reinforced time and time again as retailers, brands, and importers chase lower and lower costs abroad, usually at the expense of producers closer to home where higher wage costs and a network of legislation exists to protect employees. 

But it’s clearly not the case, as a sensational expose by the New York Department of Labor found yesterday.

It has tagged more than 10,000 garments produced by Jin Shun Incorporated, a factory on the outskirts of Manhattan, as ‘Unlawfully Manufactured.’

It wants to draw attention to the fact that not only did the manufacturer swindle workers out of more than $5m in unpaid wages, but took extraordinary steps to conceal the violations - including coaching employees to lie to investigators’ questions.

The tags are a neat way of drawing attention to the problem. Under the “hot goods law,” it is a misdemeanor for anyone other than the Department or the consumer to remove these labels.

And it achieved an almost immediate result, since within hours of the tagging the manufacturer, Urban Apparel, paid $60,000 in underpayments to have the labels removed.

The Department of Labor also had harsh words to say to retailers and manufacturers: “Cursory inspection in monitoring factories is not enough. We in government are getting more aggressive in ensuring that suppliers abide by the law.

“While you may require your suppliers to abide by strict codes of conduct, these codes do workers no good if they are not aggressively enforced.”

Perhaps labour enforcers in other countries should take note too.

US: New York garment factory underpaid workers by $5m


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