Sweatshop Jeans Sold on US Bases
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"Sweatshop" jeans sold on U.S. bases, groups say
Updated 6:20 PM ET December 5, 2000
By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. labor groups, backed by two
members of Congress, accused the Pentagon on Tuesday of
offering military personnel blue jeans made in a Nicaraguan
"sweatshop" and sued to end the factory's alleged abuses.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, the United
Steelworkers of America and the textile union UNITE! called
on the Army and Air Force to put pressure on the jeans'
supplier, Chentex, to boost wages and improve labor
To force action, the groups said, they filed suit Tuesday
against the factory and its Taiwanese owner, Nien Hsing Co.,
on behalf of the workers, alleging violations of
international labor rights.
Democratic Reps. Sherrod Brown and Cynthia McKinney of
Georgia said they would ask Congress' General Accounting
Office to investigate U.S. ties with the factory, near the
Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
"It must make the U.S. look like a hypocrite if we talk
about human rights, worker rights, and then have the (U.S.
military) buy millions of dollars of goods from Chentex in a
way that violates those very principles," McKinney said.
"The message sent is that not only does the U.S. government
tolerate sweatshops, it supports sweatshops."
Officials with the Pentagon agency that deals with Chentex,
however, said that conditions at the factory were
The National Labor Committee for Human Rights, best known
for a campaign against U.S. entertainer Kathie Lee Gifford
and Wal-Mart four years ago, alleges that workers at the
factory were paid 18 cents per pair of jeans.
When they asked for a raise of 8 cents per pair, hundreds of
workers were fired, according to the committee. Workers at
the factory were also allegedly forced to put in long hours
and endure physical and verbal abuse.
Citing shipping records, the National Labor Committee says
Chentex supplies the Pentagon's Army and Air Force Exchange
Service with blue jeans under the brand names Royal Manor
and Ponytails. Post exchanges are retail stores run for
members of the U.S. military and their families at bases in
the United States and abroad.
Lawyers said Chentex workers were demanding compensation
from Nien Hsing and seeking the right to organize and
Brown and McKinney urged the Pentagon to put pressure on
Chentex to bring pay levels and working conditions at the
factory up to internationally recognized standards and to
reinstate fired workers.
"Surely our Department of Defense, which pays $500 for a
hammer, could afford an 8 cent increase in a pair of jeans.
The United States government is the last place that should
be supporting and coddling sweatshop labor and the violation
of human rights," McKinney said.
The exchange service said in a statement that it had sent
officials to Nicaragua to investigate allegations against
Chentex and that "after a two-day inspection, (they) found
no evidence of 'sweatshop'-type working conditions."
The Chentex plant also makes jeans for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
, Kmart Corp., J.C. Penney Co. and Kohl's Corp., according
to the New York-based National Labor Committee.
Earlier this year, the anti-sweatshop group organized a
series of protests at Kohl's stores to draw attention to the
alleged conditions at the factory.
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-- The Book of Dzyan.