News/US: Judge Halts Company's Sale of Apparel From Sweatshop

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Subject: News/US: Judge Halts Company's Sale of Apparel From Sweatshop
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Wed Jul 21 1999 - 10:56:02 EDT

Maybe the first step towards a way of fighting trafficking into sweatshops.



Judge Halts Company's Sale of Apparel From Sweatshop
The New York Times, July 20, 1999

In the first use of a state law that holds a clothing company accountable
for exploitative labor practices of factories producing its garments, a
judge ruled Monday that the state can stop a Brooklyn apparel maker from
selling shirts and skirts assembled in a factory that had underpaid its

Justice Alice Schlesinger of State Supreme Court in Manhattan decided that
the company, 14 West Garment Factory Corporation, cannot sell $45,000 worth
of women's clothing made by a Chinatown sweatshop.

Before the law was passed in 1996, apparel companies accused of selling
items produced by exploited workers could avoid prosecution by claiming
they were not aware that their contractors had violated labor laws, said
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who filed a court order seeking to stop the
sale of the clothing.

"This opinion validates our perspective that you can hold manufacturers
liable for the malfeasance of its contractors," Spitzer said. "Sweatshops
come and go, which makes them hard to prosecute, but manufacturers are more

Investigators from the Department of Labor found that the factory, Ding &
Mag, underpaid 23 seamstresses a total of $18,500 between October 1998 and
January 1999. Most of the workers were Chinese immigrants who earned well
below the minimum wage of $5.15. Under the law, the court injunction can be
lifted if the back wages are paid.

The owners of Ding & Mag failed to appear in court, but in court documents,
a lawyer representing 14 West, Bennett Epstein, argued that his clients had
no idea their contractor was shortchanging its employees. Telephone
messages left for Epstein last night were not returned, and there was no
listing for either 14 West or Ding & Mag.

Federal labor officials estimate that there are 4,000 garment factories in
New York City, two-thirds of which regularly violate minimum-wage and
overtime laws. Factory owners assert they are pressured to cut corners by
intense foreign competition and by retailers who often pay them late or too
little for what they produced.

Jay Mazur, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile
Employees, hailed yesterday's ruling, saying he hoped it would force
manufacturers to take responsibility for the lives of those who put
together their garments. "When they realize their goods can be seized,
they'll pay attention," he said.

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