Will Abercrombie & Fitch Shareholders Do the Right Thing?

Abercrombie & Fitch’s advertising has been raising eyebrows for years. Their glossy spreads in magazines usually feature muscular, tanned men and women playing sports and enjoying the good life, often while wearing a surprisingly small amount of clothes for a clothing advertisement.

But behind the pretty pictures lie many questions about the conditions under which Abercrombie’s clothes are produced. Unlike a large number of major companies, A&F does not have a vendor code of conduct to ensure that its suppliers respect workers and the company does not publicly report on its labor practices globally.  Shareholders at the upcoming A&F shareholder meeting on June 9, 2010 will be requesting that the company implement all of these missing elements.

The vacuum of labor rights protections has led to some specific problems for A&F in the past. For example, in 2002, the company settled a lawsuit with workers in Northern Mariana Islands who claimed to have been exploited by an A&F supplier.

More recently, readers of this blog may remember that A&F is one of the few clothing companies that has refused to speak out against forced child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. In Uzbekistan, the government removes thousands of children from their schools every harvest season and forces them to pick cotton to enrich the ruling regime. The egregious abuses of children in the production of Uzbek cotton have led a large number of the biggest global clothing brands to speak out publicly and to commit to eliminating cotton from Uzbekistan in their supply chains until they can be assured that the government ends the forced labor of children.

Expect Not-So-Great Things in Kohl’s Supply Chain

Dear Kohl’s,

Over the last several years, I have fallen in love with you. In 2009, particularly, the clothes, shoes, and other home items I purchased — armed with sales info and in-store coupons — cemented my adoration. Add to the fantastic selection of products your charitable work, specifically in the form of Kohl’s Cares for Kids, through which the niftiest books are sold to benefit health and education programs in the U.S., and you have yourself a fan. Check Facebook: It’s true. Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) placed you on the 2010 roster for inaction regarding unsafe labor conditions at your Turkish linen supplier, Menderes Tekstil. Four people died at this factory. Who knows what other atrocities are going on there daily? You certainly don’t, because, in spite of efforts by the ILRF and other groups to reach out and assist with a review and cleanup of labor practices at Menderes Tesktil, you haven’t done a thing.

Incidentally, I discovered this information approximately two weeks after purchasing bed sheets in your online store. I was not pleased. The sheets are “dirty” in my mind, and needless to say, I have trouble sleeping on them at night.

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Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Slavery Will Be the Next Disaster for Haiti’s Children

The question of enslavement of Haitian children into commercial sex and forced labor is not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” When will the potential exploiters see the opportunity to make money selling children for sex of labor? When will the international aid run out, and the millions of poor and orphaned Haitian children be left to fend for themselves? When will farms, brothels, private homes, and other places begin to lure children into a life of slavery with the promise of love and comfort? Sooner than any of us would like to admit.

Even before the 7.0 earthquake and its 6.1 aftershock rocked the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, almost a quarter million child slaves were living in Haiti. Most were known as restaveks, and were forced into domestic servitude in private homes for little or no money. Other children were sold in brothels, forced to work on farms, and trafficked to beg and panhandle on the streets. Despite Haiti’s reputation for throwing off the shackles of colonial slavery over 150 years ago, forced labor and forced prostitution have been the reality for many Haitian children ever since. And this disaster and its aftermath will inevitably make a bad situation exponentially worse.

Why will this disaster create the next disaster of widespread slavery for Haitian children? World Vision has a great explanation of the post-quake dynamics that will encourage human trafficking:

The question of enslavement of Haitian children into commercial sex and forced labor is not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.” When will the potential exploiters see the opportunity to make money selling children for sex of labor? When will the international aid run out, and the millions of poor and orphaned Haitian children be left to fend for themselves? When will farms, brothels, private homes, and other places begin to lure children into a life of slavery with the promise of love and comfort? Sooner than any of us would like to admit.

Even before the 7.0 earthquake and its 6.1 aftershock rocked the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, almost a quarter million child slaves were living in Haiti. Most were known as restaveks, and were forced into domestic servitude in private homes for little or no money. Other children were sold in brothels, forced to work on farms, and trafficked to beg and panhandle on the streets. Despite Haiti’s reputation for throwing off the shackles of colonial slavery over 150 years ago, forced labor and forced prostitution have been the reality for many Haitian children ever since. And this disaster and its aftermath will inevitably make a bad situation exponentially worse.

Why will this disaster create the next disaster of widespread slavery for Haitian children? World Vision has a great explanation of the post-quake dynamics that will encourage human trafficking:

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TRANSNATIONAL TRAFFICKING INTO THE U.S.


Transnational traffickers exploit the vulnerability and instability inherent in being moved to a foriegn country

The United States is known as a destination country for transnational trafficking networks that bring foreign nationals into the U.S. for purposes of both sexual and labor exploitation. Foreign national trafficking victims in the U.S. are primarily from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Sex trafficking cases of foreign national women and children brought into the U.S. are known to occur in a wide variety of locations in the commercial sex industry, such as massage parlors, hostess clubs, commercially-fronted brothels, residential brothels, escort services, and strip clubs. Labor trafficking cases of foreign nationals brought into the U.S. occur in domestic work environments in private homes; small independently-owned family businesses such as restaurants or nail salons; peddling and begging rings; and larger-scale labor environments such as agricultural farms or large sweatshop-like factories. These cases involve both documented and undocumented migrant workers, and they can occur in both legitimate and underground industries.

source: http://www.polarisproject.org/content/view/61/82/

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 8:39 am  Comments (1)  
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Midnight Regulations Roundup

The Obama administration continues to chip away at the Bush administration’s midnight regulations campaign. Obama agencies took action on two more Bush-era midnight regulations this week and a third last week.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, EPA announced that it will publish a notice proposing to withdraw a Dec. 19, 2008, rule that reclassified thousands of tons of hazardous waste as fuel. Environmentalists criticized the rule, charging that it would exempt the reclassified material from government oversight and regulation. The rule has been in effect since Jan. 20. (You may recall another significant event on that date. Coincidence?)

EPA should publish the notice soon at which time the public will have 45 days to comment. EPA could formally withdrawal the rule in early- to mid- 2010, if it moves quickly.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, the Department of Labor proposed delaying the implementation of an Oct. 2, 2008, rule which requires unions to report in greater detail financial information about their trusts (e.g. credit unions or educational institutions). Unions criticized the rule as an effort to burden unions with more paperwork.

The rule has technically been in effect since Jan. 1, but the first round of reporting is not due until early 2010. Labor is proposing to delay the reporting deadlines, likely until 2011. It says that a new rule to rescind the Bush rule is “pending.”

On Nov. 23, the Health and Human Services Department published a proposed rule that would revise a Dec. 24, 2008, regulation that placed free speech conditions on government grantees. As of Jan. 20, when the rule took effect, HHS grantees cannot engage in HIV/AIDS assistance activities unless they adopt a statement explicitly and unequivocally opposing prostitution and sex trafficking for their entire organizations or set up completely separate affiliated organizations.

The Nov. 23 proposed rule would change the Bush regulation, but only slightly, and would still serve as an obstacle for grantees. HHS is a bit handcuffed on the rule, since the anti-prostitution/sex-trafficking pledge requirement was imposed by Congress. The proposed revision is open for public comment until Dec. 23.

Continue to check OMB Watch’s midnight regulations webpage for updates.

source: http://www.ombwatch.org/node/10611

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 8:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Indian Kids Labor to Make Balloons for American Kids’ Parties

There is often a cruel and stark contrast between the lives of children in the developing world and the lives of children in America. Indian children as young as six work 12-hour days to make colorful latex balloons for just pennies a day. The terrible irony that party balloons for Western children’s celebrations are being made by kids the same age under abusive and exploitative working conditions is the stuff of Hollywood plot lines. But such child labor in factories is too real for children across India and around the world.

I urge you to check out the great photo essay on this subject here. In vivid and disturbing pictures, we follow the story of Czoton, a 7-year-old boy who works all day, every day, in a balloon factory in rural India. He and 19 other children work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, for about $2.14 per week. Conditions in the factory are harsh. The children work outside in the sweltering heat, unprotected from the elements. They inhale the dust and chemicals which can cause serious damage to their health. Because they work in the factory, they aren’t able to go to school.

It’s an unpleasant and unavoidable reality that Czoton and his fellow child laborers are making these balloons for us. Balloons from factories which exploit children’s labor are shipped to the U.S. and sold cheaply, to make other children happy. Children who grow up in privileged homes and those who grow up in unprivileged homes have unequal opportunities in a number of ways. The difference between laboring all day to make the trappings of a birthday party and being the recipient of a birthday party is just one of those ways.

If you’re a parent looking to start a conversation with your child about how other children around the world are less fortunate, sometimes child labor is a good place to start. Age-appropriate information about how some children are not allowed to go to school and instead much work long days can help kids better understand global inequality. It might even make school sound more appealing. One middle school in Texas even set up a simulated sweatshop to show children how the experience of toiling in menial labor compared to going to school and being free. Learning about how other children live can help kids become less narcissistic and more selfless.

Balloons are just one of many, many consumer goods that use exploited or enslaved children somewhere in the supply chain. If you want to start researching where the products you buy come from and whether or not they’ve been made by child labor or forced labor, check out the Department of Labor’s list of slave-made goods.

source: http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/indian_kids_labor_to_make_balloons_for_american_kids_parties

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Conference targets problem of forced-labor crimes

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While sex-trafficking cases grab headlines, there’s a growing problem of people being forced to work as “modern-day slaves.”

They are sometimes called “modern-day slaves” — illegal immigrants working for low pay with the threat of deportation to keep them from complaining to authorities. Police and social workers say that more than 20,000 people are brought into the United States each year by exploitative labor traffickers, and that at least half the victims are children.

While sex trafficking often grabs the headlines, the 50 people attending a labor trafficking conference Friday in St. Paul agreed that more attention and education needs to be focused on the growing problem.

“We know there are lots of victims of labor trafficking in Minnesota, but they don’t get talked about a lot,” said Vednita Carter, executive director of Breaking Free, an organization that serves women involved in prostitution and the organizer of the conference.

It’s not that Minnesota isn’t active in researching and prosecuting human-traffickers. State law mandates an annual report on trafficking patterns and victims, and law enforcement agencies have a statewide task force, which currently has 37 open sex and labor trafficking cases.

St. Paul officer Heather Weyker, a member of the task force, said labor trafficking victims generally are in the agricultural, janitorial, hospitality and food-service industries, or they work in “sweatshop” factories.

State law defines trafficking as the illegal “recruitment, transportation, harboring, enticement, obtaining or receipt of a person by any means, whether a U.S. citizen or foreign national.” It can be for forced labor, slavery or practices similar to slavery, or the removal of organs through coercion or intimidation. Labor cases often are more difficult to pursue than sex cases, because it’s harder to get access to the victims, Weyker said.

No one’s complaining

“You just can’t walk into a company you think is involved in trafficking and just start poking around,” she said. “We know the victims are out there; we just aren’t receiving the complaints.”

In May, 12 people — eight of them from Uzbekistan — were accused in a federal indictment of luring illegal immigrants to work in 14 U.S. states, including Minnesota. The defendants used false information to obtain fake work visas for the workers. The defendants threatened the workers with deportation while forcing them to live in substandard apartments and shorting their pay.

The Minnesota connection to the case involves Mankato-based Kato Roofing Inc., which hired workers from Chile, Ukraine, Bolivia and Yugoslavia through one of the labor companies that came under federal scrutiny. The indictments do not accuse the Mankato company of wrongdoing.

There are 38 human-trafficking task forces in the United States, but labor trafficking made up only 12 percent of their cases in past two years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Successful cases can bring hefty sentences. This month, a 57-year-old Houston man got 13 years in federal prison for his role in smuggling Central American women and girls into the United States. He was also ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution to the victims.

132 agencies cite cases

Minnesota’s annual trafficking report includes a voluntary survey of police, nurses and agencies that work with victims. The 2008 report says 132 agencies reported helping a trafficking victim in the previous three years. Some were forced to beg and others were forced to work at churches, according to the report. More than 30 percent of sex traffickers forced their victims into stripping and pornography.

Romeo Ramirez, from the Coalition for Immokalee Workers in Florida, described the group’s most recent investigation, to expose labor trafficking at a tomato farm. Several dozen workers recruited to the farm were told they already had enormous debts to work off before they had picked their first tomato. Speaking through an interpreter, Ramirez said workers had to pay the employer to sleep in the back of a truck or shower with a hose. Those who complained were tied up at night or beaten in front of the others, he said.

To make $50 a day, workers had to pick 2 tons of tomatoes, he said. Word of the trafficking leaked after some workers escaped and told social workers, he said.

Once exposed, the company had to sign a code of conduct guaranteeing wage increases and zero tolerance for physical abuse. Whole Foods stopped buying the company’s tomatoes, and two people from the company were sentenced to 12 years in prison, Ramirez said. As the result of other trafficking cases, the coalition secured agreements from Burger King, Subway and several food services to work only with companies that agree to sign the code of conduct.

“We have to force companies to be socially responsible,” he said.

“They can’t only produce fresh food, but fair food.”

source: http://www.startribune.com/local/61593647.html?page=2&c=y

Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 7:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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