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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Celebrities' 'Sweatshops' Draw Fire

NEW YORK -- It doesn't matter whether the purchase is a $9.96 Kathie Lee Gifford blouse at a Wal-Mart discount store or a $99 pair of Air Jordan sneakers: There is no guarantee that the celebrity-endorsed product wasn't made in a sweatshop.


And if eliminating unhealthy, underpaying factories is considered tough in the United States, it's even more difficult in underdeveloped countries like Honduras, where workers sew both Gifford's line for Wal-Mart and Jaclyn Smith clothes for Kmart, another U.S. discount retail chain.


In Indonesia, labor activists complain that employees work 65-hour weeks to meet production quotas for Nike shoes and clothing, endorsed by dozens of celebrities including basketball star Michael Jordan.


"There's a lot of forced overtime, there's a lot of mistreatment and physical punishment," said Jeff Ballinger, who has documented conditions at the Nike plants. When workers protest, they are fired, he said.


Nike, Kmart and the celebrities deny the charges. But many activists wonder how celebrities can earn so many millions from the products with their name on it without knowing about the abuses.


Gifford, a popular television personality, says she receives a percentage of the sales and gives 10 percent of that to charity -- more than $1 million last year.


"When you're making that sort of money," said labor activist Charles Kernaghan, "you better ask some serious questions about the conditions under which this clothing is produced."


Revelations this year that New York City employees worked 60-hour weeks to make blouses for Gifford, and Hondurans worked for 31 cents an hour to make pants for her clothing line, focused national attention on sweatshop abuses.


"The problem of sweatshops is a national disgrace," U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said.


More than half of the country's 22,000 cutting and sewing shops in the garment industry pay below U.S. minimum wage of $4.25 an hour, he said, and more than a third threaten employee health and safety.


Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, says workers at the Seolim factory in Baracoa, Honduras, work up to 75 hours a week to meet production quotas for Smith's Kmart line.


Smith, who starred in the 1970s TV show "Charlie's Angels," called Kernaghan's allegations "totally untrue."


All Kmart factories are inspected, vendors comply with labor laws, and contracts are canceled if violations exist, Kmart spokeswoman Michelle Jasukaitis said.


And in response to the complaints about Nike, the company says it pays its Indonesian workers 53 cents an hour. The minimum wage in Indonesia is about 25 cents an hour.