Albion Monitor

Who's naughty and who's nice? What company labels should you look for, and which should you avoid?

"The Gap, Patagonia, and Levi Strauss are leaders moving in the right direction," says Darlene Adkins, spokesperson for the National Consumers League. "But everybody has room for improvement. The Gap has independent monitoring, for example, but we're not endorsing anybody as 'the good guys.'"

If you're looking for fine carpets, the National Consumers League says rugs made under the "RUGMARK" label guarantee that they were not made by child workers. According to the Child Labor Coalition in Washington, hundreds of thousands of children are working as bonded laborers in the loom sheds of India, Pakistan and Nepal, where children are loaned out by their parents to pay off debts.

The Department of Labor publishes a list of retailers that have pledged to "try to ensure" that their products aren't made in sweatshops. But as described in the main article, there's no guarantee that conditions are reasonable unless there's an independent monitoring program.

As of Thanksgiving, 1996, the Labor Department list includes:
Abercrombie & Fitch
Baby Superstore
Banana Republic
Bath & Body Works
Boston Stores
Carson Pirie Scott
Dana Buchman
Galyans Trading
Gerber Childrenswear
Guess Inc.
Henri Bendel
Jessica McClintock
Lands End
Lane Bryant
Lerner New York
Levi Strauss
Limited Too
Liz Claiborne Inc.
Mast Industries
NFL Properties
Nicole Miller
Old Navy Clothing Store
Superior Surgical Mfg
The Gap
The Limited
Victoria's Secret
Adkins also points out that this list only covers U.S. labor -- a company could be listed even if all work was performed by overseas sweatshops. Also, some companies on the Department's list, such as Jessica McClintock, simultaneously appear on the enforcement reports.

Dillards department stores have pledged to monitor sweatshop conditions, according to the UNITE union, and activists such as Charles Kernaghan say that The Gap deserves credit for its independent monitoring program.

Who's naughty? Short answer: everybody. Adkins says bluntly, "All [garment manufacturers] have problems, at this point."

As described in the main article, consumer pressure is critical. If conditions are ever to improve, angry shoppers will have to push for boycotts. The National Consumers League currently has a letter writing campaign to Michael Jordan, asking him to pressure Nike:

When Kathie Lee Gifford learned that the Kathie Lee clothing line was sewn in Central America's sweatshops, she did the right thing by taking action to stop child labor and worker abuse. But not Michael Jordan. Jordan is paid $20 million a year to endorse Nike products, including his namesake, Air Jordan sneakers. Air Jordans are made be workers earning $2.23 a day. When Michael Jordan was confronted with this issue, he said, "It's not my problem." Well, whose problem is it?

Don't be like Mike. Help stop worker abuse. Ask your child to write to Michael Jordan, c/o the CLUW office, 1126 16th Street N.W., Washington D.C. 20036. And please, write to Michael Jordan yourself, as well.

Write Michael Jordan. Tell him to do the right thing.

(Sample Letter)

Dear Michael,
I got some Air Jordans that help me run fast. My mother said they cost a lot. Do you know she said that my new shoes cost more than the people make them make all month long?

Nike gives you lots of money. Would you tell Nike to pay them more so they can buy their kids shoes too? Make me want to be like Mike.

Your friend,
Kevin Moran
age 11

The National Consumers League also distributes postcards that you can give to stores where you shop. As Charles Kernaghan said in his interview, "Companies tell us that every time they get a letter or a phone call from a person, they assume there are 250 to 500 other people who feel the same way"

The postcards from National Consumers League read:

Dear Retailer:

As your customer, I want to know:

  • Can you guarantee that your garments were manufactured under decent conditions?
  • How do you ensure that your U.S. suppliers comply with U.S. labor laws, such as the payment of minimum wage, overtime compensation, and safe workplaces?
  • What are your written guidelines for companies that manufacture your garments both in the U.S. and overseas? Do you require that all your suppliers post the guidelines in the worker's language in the workplace?

As your customer, I urgue you to take these steps:

  • Joint effort with the U.S. Department of Labor to eradicate U.S. sweatshops.
  • Active support of international initiatives to end sweatshop exploitation (such as child labor).
  • Agree to independent monitoring of your international suppliers.

Thank you. I request a response.

Postcards can be obtained from NCL, 1701 K Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington D.C. 20006. A $1 donation is requested to cover costs of printing and postage.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor Issue 21 (

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