[OPE-L:7717] NYTimes.com Article: An Effort to Better Labor's Lot

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Sep 27 2002 - 15:04:56 EDT

Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee (USA), 
does not want US multinationals to abandon their third world 
factories but he wants the US to ban imports from sweatshops which do 
not pay a 'sustainable wage.' International labor solidarity or a new 
system of protectionism to supplant the Multi Fibre Agreement when it 
is phased out in a couple of years?

This article from NYTimes.com
An Effort to Better Labor's Lot

September 27, 2002

Lisa Rahman, a 19-year-old garment worker from Bangladesh,
is touring the United States for two seemingly
contradictory reasons: to publicize working conditions at
her factory and to urge the Walt Disney Company to continue
making shirts there.

Ms. Rahman said she worked 14 hours a day, seven days a
week at the Shah Makhdum factory in Dhaka, where she said
managers sometimes hit workers and women were forced to
quit if they became pregnant. She said workers received no
vacation, holidays or sick days and earned about 14 cents
an hour, meaning they earn about 5 cents for a shirt that
sells for $17.99 in the United States.

Soon after a labor rights group began publicizing the
factory's conditions last year, a Disney licensee that
produces Winnie the Pooh shirts pulled all work out of the
factory. But Ms. Rahman said Disney should send new
business to the factory and make sure its conditions

Ms. Rahman is visiting New York, Philadelphia and
Washington this week as part of a campaign by the National
Labor Committee, a labor rights group, to press companies
to upgrade working conditions in Bangladesh.

"Disney must not cut and run," said Charles Kernaghan,
director of the labor committee. "Disney must return to the
Shah Makhdum factory. It must clean up conditions at that

Mr. Kernaghan, who has publicized working conditions at
factories producing for the Gap and the Kathie Lee Gifford
line, invited Ms. Rahman and two other Bangladeshi workers
to the United States to advance a broader campaign. This
week the National Labor Committee and several unions,
religious groups and community organizations are starting a
push to persuade Congress to enact legislation that would
bar imports from sweatshops.

Mark Spears, Disney's compliance officer, acknowledged that
many factories in Bangladesh had problems, but he said that
when Disney's monitors inspected the Shah Makhdum factory,
they did not find the conditions publicized by Mr.

Noting that Disney does not own garment factories, Mr.
Spears said the company was working with owners in
Bangladesh to improve conditions so that the factories
would comply with Disney's code of conduct and licensees
could use them.

Disney's licensee, not Disney, pulled the work out of the
Shah Makhdum factory, Mr. Spears said, adding that any
decision to return would be made by the licensee. "We're
encouraging people to continue manufacturing in Bangladesh,
including at Shah Makhdum," he said.

Mr. Kernaghan urged American companies not to end
production at factories with problems; he said companies
should work to improve the plants.

The Rev. David Dyson, a Presbyterian minister and chairman
of the People of Faith Network, a coalition with members
from 10,000 congregations, said labor rights advocates were
seeking antisweatshop legislation from Congress because of
frustrations with the lack of progress in
company-by-company pressure campaigns. He said many labor
advocates were dissatisfied with relying on codes of
conduct and private monitoring because that meant companies
were responsible for their own compliance.

The new campaign is seeking a prohibition on imports from
any factory that does not pay "a sustainable wage" and that
violates International Labor Organization conventions that
guaranteeg the right to unionize and that prohibit forced
labor, child labor and racial and religious discrimination.

The National Retail Federation criticized the proposal,
saying it would be difficult to administer. It predicted
the proposal would face rough going on Capitol Hill.

Foreign government officials have signaled that they will
fight the campaign, fearing that it will cause many
factories to close.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Sep 28 2002 - 00:00:01 EDT