Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights Reacts to Recent Allegations of Sweatshop Labor in Celebrity Product Lines

December, 23 2011 Share



Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights Reacts to Recent Allegations of Sweatshop Labor in Celebrity Product Lines 


NEW YORK and PITTSBURGH, Dec. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Following is a Statement by Charles Kernaghan Director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights regarding allegations of sweatshop abuses in the production of Kim Kardashians clothing and other product lines in China

China is not like the United States.  In China there are no human rights, no religious freedom, no worker or women's rights, no freedom of speech and certainly no political freedoms.  China is a totalitarian state.

When celebrities like Kim Kardashian decide to source their production in China, they must realize that they are starting out on a very low rung, perhaps at the bottom, when it comes to respect for fundamental, internationally agreed upon human and labor rights.

We would like to ask Ms. Kardashian and other celebrities:  Why is it that they hide their factories in China?  Why is it that they refuse to provide the American people with the names and addresses of their supplier factories?  What are they afraid of?

When it comes to their profits, Ms. Kardashian and other celebrities demand all sorts of enforceable laws –i intellectual property and copyright laws, backed up by sanctions—to protect their trade marked goods.  If someone makes a knock-off of a Kardashian garment, that person will be tracked down, prosecuted and do real jail time.  However, when it comes to legal worker rights protections in China, there are none.  What Ms. Kardashian and other celebrities offer the workers are voluntary corporate codes of conduct, which never work.  Corporate codes of conduct are a public relations smoke screen to pretend that workers have rights.  The reality is that Ms. Kardashian's garments, purses and other products are being protected, but not the human beings in China who made them.

To give a concrete example, just a few days ago we received a report on the Jet Fair Factoryin Guangdong Province in China.  The factory is producing Hasbro's popular Transformer toys.  Hasbro says that they have a voluntary code of conduct which guarantees that the young Chinese workers are treated with respect and afforded all legal rights.  But when we interviewed the young Chinese workers, they told us a very different story.  They said they were trapped in a hell-hole.  The workers were housed 12 to a room in filthy dorms, which were infested with rats and bed bugs.  The workers were so tortured by the bed bug bites that they were unable to sleep at night.  During the peak season, they worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Summer temperatures reached 104 degrees, leaving the workers drenched in their own sweat.  Workers were beaten and often prohibited from taking bathroom breaks.  The workers described the factory food  "fit for swine feed".  They earned a take-home wage of 92 cents an hour and approximately $32 a week.  

Or take a look at photographs smuggled out of the Kye factory in China.  They show exhausted young teenaged workers slumped over their assembly line during their 10-minute break, surrounded by piles of Microsoft products! (By the way, Forbes Magazine credits the Institute and other nonprofit organizations for doing more to promote respect for workers rights in China, more than all U.S. corporations put together).

Isn't it odd that year after year the American people spend nearly $100 billion on clothing, shoes, accessories, sporting goods, electronic and other goods made in China—and yet we have never, not even once, had the opportunity to meet with a worker from China?  This is not by chance.  If a Chinese worker dared to speak the truth, we would never see that person again.

If Ms. Kardashian has found a way to overcome the iron-fisted repression under which the Chinese workers are forced to toil, then that would be huge news and  worthy of tremendous applause.  But unfortunately, based on our concrete experiences investigating factories in China and elsewhere, the chances are about one in a million that Ms, Kardashain has found a way to push back against the Chinese authorities and  guarantee that her employees will be  afforded their most basic, internationally recognized workers’ rights.

It is sad that such well know celebrities like Ms. Kardashian and others, who have both fortune and power, continue to jump head first into the race to the bottom in the global sweatshop economy by rushing to source their production to China.

Wouldn't be amazing if Ms. Kardashian stood up and said she would keep her production in the United States?  God knows we need the jobs.  This would be a shot heard around the world.  Yes, by doing so a celebrity might take a 25 cent per garment cut in her profit margin, but she would still earn a lot of money.  Such a celebrity would be an incredible role model.  Imagine products made under humane conditions.  This is something the American people would applaud!

Report on the Jet Fair factory in China:  “Holidays by Hasbro, Transformers from Hell” 

Report on the KYE factory in China:  “China’s Youth Meet Microsoft”

Photos from KYE

Forbe Magazine article