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Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.


Office of Public Affairs

OPA Press Release: Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich Unveils Public Service Announcents To Raise Awareness Of Plight Of U.S. Sweatshop Workers [03/25/1996]

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Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and a coalition of consumer, labor and religious organizations representing more than 50 million members today announced an initiative to raise public awareness of continued worker abuse in the U.S. garment industry.

On the 85th Anniversary of one of the worst sweatshop tragedies in history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Reich and an organizer of the coalition unveiled new public service announcement ads, "Clues for Consumers," for shoppers interested in sweatshop-free shopping and a new site on the World Wide Web dedicated to the public awareness effort.

On March 25, 1911, The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire claimed the lives of 146, mostly women, and brought attention to the abhorrent workplace conditions of the era. The resulting public outrage fueled the creation of workplace health and safety standards and was instrumental in shaping future labor laws.

"Eighty-five years after one of the worst workplace tragedies in our history, we are witnessing a return of sweatshops," said Reich. "The anniversary of this tragedy should mark a renewed commitment to eradicate them.

"Sweatshops pose a threat to the workers. But they also threaten the legitimate contractors in the industry who want to pay good wages and abide by the rules. We are dedicated to protecting contractors as well from the unscrupulous in the industry. More than 1 million garment workers in this country depend on a healthy, thriving industry."

Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers League, announced that more than 25 consumer, labor and religious organizations would distribute a public service announcement and the department's "Clues for Consumers," helpful tips for shoppers who want to support efforts to end sweatshop working conditions.

The "Clues" and other important consumer information also will be available on the World Wide Web through the Labor Department home page ( The department will distribute print ads to 10,000 newspapers, magazines and other publications in the coming weeks and ask for free placement. Thirty-second radio spots will be available to radio stations nationwide at 1-800-877-9002.

"Six months ago the country was horrified by the discovery of workers held in slavery in a Southern California sweatshop," Reich said. "Just weeks ago we discovered more workers actually locked in their garment factory at night by the owners. And every working day in America we discover still more garment workers cheated of their wages. The public is clamoring for information so it can do its part to end this abuse."

Aggressive garment enforcement continues to uncover widespread abuse of U.S. garment workers, Reich said. This year garment sweeps in cities across the country revealed 283 contractors in violation, owing $1.2 million in back wages to more than 2,400 workers.

Also this year, a sweep of 11 garment shops in Dallas revealed 82 percent of area contractors in violation of federal labor laws. In Orange County, Calif., 80 percent of the garment shops investigated were found in violation of overtime or minimum wage laws.

Since 1993, the Clinton administration has recovered more than $7.3 million in back wages for more than 25,000 garment workers. Along with increased enforcement efforts, the department has sought the assistance of worker advocacy groups, consumers, retailers and manufacturers.

"There are manufacturers and retailers in the garment industry that take worker issues seriously and are working with us to eliminate the sweatshop menace," Reich said. "We want to congratulate those who are making a difference for some of the most powerless workers in our society."

The department also salutes major retailers that monitor or require their manufacturers to monitor garment contractors for labor law compliance. Thirty-six retailers and manufacturers have been named to the department's "Fair Labor Fashions Trendsetters" list based upon their monitoring practices.

In August 1995 worker abuse in the garment industry received national attention when Department of Labor and Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators raided a sweatshop in El Monte, Calif., and found 72 Thai workers toiling in slave-like conditions for 16 to 22 hours a day.

A study released last year by Marymount University in Arlington, Va., found 78 percent of the consumers surveyed would avoid retailers that sell sweatshop goods. The majority of those surveyed, 84 percent, also indicated they would pay more for garments they could be guaranteed were not made in sweatshops.

Reich said his department has received more than 30,000 letters, phone calls and telegrams from the public asking how they might support efforts to crackdown on sweatshops.

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.