Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School

Children Found Sewing Clothing For Wal-Mart, Hanes & Other U.S. & European Companies

From the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (formerly National Labor Committee)

According to a National Labor Committee 2006 report, an estimated 200 children, some 11 years old or even younger, are sewing clothing for Hanes, Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, and Puma at the Harvest Rich factory in Bangladesh.

The children report being routinely slapped and beaten, sometimes falling down from exhaustion, forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, even some all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts, often seven days a week, for wages as low as 6 ½ cents an hour. The wages are so wretchedly low that many of the child workers get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning to brush their teeth using just their finger and ashes from the fire, since they cannot afford a toothbrush or toothpaste.

The workers say that if they could earn just 36 cents an hour, they could climb out of misery and into poverty, where they could live with a modicum of decency.

In the month of September, the children had just one day off, and before clothing shipments had to leave for the U.S. the workers were often kept at the factory 95 to 110 hours a week. After being forced to work a grueling all-night 19-to-20-hour shift, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. the following day, the children sleep on the factory floor for two or three hours before being woken to start their next shift at 8:00 a.m. that same morning.

The child workers are beaten for falling behind in their production goal, making mistakes or taking too long in the bathroom (which is filthy, lacking even toilet paper, soap or towels).

In 1996, after Charles Kernaghan and the National Labor Committee revealed that Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line for Wal-Mart was being made by 12 and 13-year-olds in Honduras, the resulting scandal and publicity was enough to virtually wipe out child labor in garment factories around the world producing for export to the U.S.

"Exactly a decade after the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal, children are again sewing clothing for Wal-Mart, Hanes and other U.S. companies,” said Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee. “Children belong in school, not locked in sweatshops. Wal-Mart, Hanes and the other companies owe these children, and must now provide them with stipends to replace their wages and cover all necessary expenses to send them back to school.”

Corporate monitoring has again proved a miserable failure, as Harvest Rich was certified by the U.S. apparel industry’s Worldwide Responsibly Apparel Production (WRAP) monitoring group. Not only did the U.S. companies fail to notice the child workers, the beatings, the excessive mandatory overtime, but also that not one single worker in Harvest Rich was paid the correct overtime pay legally due them. Any worker daring to ask for their proper wages, or that their most basic legal rights be respected, would immediately be attacked, beaten and fired.

“Right now, more than 100 children at the Harvest Rich factory are being threatened with firing,” says Kernaghan, “It is time for the U.S. companies to act immediately, today, to guarantee that this does not happen and that the children are returned to school.”

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is an independent, nonprofit human rights organization and the leading anti-sweatshop watchdog group in the U.S. The Institute has run successful campaigns not only against Kathie Lee Gifford and Wal-Mart but also on production for Sean “P Diddy” Combs, the NFL, NBA, GAP, Disney, Nike and others. Most recently the Institute exposed the descent of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement into human trafficking and involuntary servitude.

[read the full report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights]