If Not You,Then Who Will Guard the Global Village?
Kathie Lee Gifford changed everything. Whether she understood what was happening or not, her role in the 1995 Wal-Mart clothing sweatshop scandal was invaluable. “She was dragged into this thing kicking and screaming. But she really helped start the anti-sweatshop campaign. [In doing so,] she educated a country of 300 million people,” explained Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, a nonprofit watchdog group with a mission to protect the rights of workers around the world. Kernaghan’s group exposed the abuses occurring within the factory walls, and later would initiate an almost-obligatory United States corporate behavioral shift from simple, bottom-line profit and loss thinking, to an equation including worker/human rights, regardless of whether their geography placed them on American soil or not.
The “Kathie Lee incident” brought large-scale media attention to the issue of social responsibility with regard to safe and fair labor practices. But widespread irresponsibility continues to be an unfortunate byproduct of hard-and-fast globalization and international trade agreements currently fueling the fires of the overseas sweatshop production mentality. And it’s not only happening with soft goods. Offshore manufacturing facilities for toys, furniture and other hard goods are also guilty. Without a certifiable code of conduct or universal standardization, it becomes a very difficult task for both suppliers and distributors to guarantee to their end-buyers that their supply chains are both safe and fair.
YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD IT BAD, STEP INSIDE
In Kernaghan’s testimony against the Kathie Lee/Wal-Mart line, during the 1996 Democratic Policy Committee Congressional Hearings, he cited significant abuses occurring inside Global Fashion, the factory in Choloma, Honduras where Gifford’s clothing line was produced. The workers’ exploitation was ongoing, widespread and severe.
Just some of the maltreatment described in Kernaghan’s testimony as well as an additional account given by a Global Fashion employee was: