Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Victoria's Dirty Secret?

Victoria's Secret bras, photo by Emil Rensing, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0Jonathan Tasini of workinglife.org blogged at dailykos.com about the National Labor Committee's new findings on sweatshop conditions and labor violations at a Jordanian subcontract factory that makes bikinis for Victoria's Secret. He uses this example to critique the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, saying such deals "are primarily about protecting the rights of capital. You can never hope to enforce labor rights (or for that matter environmental protections) under a regime that is focused on profit first, and community second." The "free" in free trade probably doesn't mean much to the Bangladeshi worker who bought his way to Jordan only to find himself working 90-hour weeks and unable to leave the factory compound because his residency permit has been withheld.

Closer to home, there's a knitting factory in my building in Brooklyn. I popped in this past Saturday to grab the freight elevator and found about a dozen people working, Asian and Mexican immigrants, some of them wearing a thin mask stretched from ear to ear across their noses. It was pretty humid in there due to all the ironing. I don't know enough about that particular company to comment on its labor policies or whether it qualifies as a sweatshop, but it resonates with me when Tasini says "Why we would pretend that labor rights can be enforced as an after-thought, as a secondary issue, in countries around the world—when we can't even enforce basic labor rights here."

Tasini advocates writing to the CEO of the parent company of Victoria's Secret to pressure them to change behavior. I wonder if the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act would make such protest unnecessary.

Photo credit: Pink Bras by Emil Rensing (CC).

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