By Jasmin Malik Chua / Source: Ecouterre
Los Angeles has a sweatshop problem, and bargain retailers like Forever 21, T.J. Maxx, and Ross are reaping the benefits. At a press conference on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that an investigation of 77 randomly selected Southern California garment contractors, conducted between April and July of this year, uncovered minimum wage and overtime violations in 85 percent of the cases. While facilities with the most offenses mostly made clothes for brands known for deep discounts, a number also had ties with national department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom. Workers were paid an average of $7 an hour, or $3 less than the California minimum wage, according to the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. In some cases, they received as littles as $4 an hour. In total, investigators found that the factories shortchanged their workers to the tune of $1.1 million.
The department said it has asked the garment manufacturers and some intermediary companies to pay $1.3 million in lost wages and damages to workers.
Because the Labor Department can only penalize companies that directly employ workers, the retailers who commissioned clothing from the facilities will be largely unaffected.
Workers in garment industry are typically immigrants who have a limited grasp of English and scant awareness of their rights
“This business model has shielded them from any legal responsibility,” Ruben Rosalez, a regional administrator with the Labor Department, told the Los Angeles Times. “The problem, he said, is that retailers have not increased the rates they pay manufacturers in years.”
Labor Department officials said they have asked Forever 21 and Ross to not only monitor their supply chains more closely, but also increase their payments so that the workers can receive a living wage.
Workers in garment industry are typically immigrants who have a limited grasp of English and scant awareness of their rights.
“The retailers are setting the prices,” Rosalez added. “They’re saying, ‘Make this shirt for this amount,’ but it’s the workers at the end of the chain that are getting screwed.
Forever 21 and Ross have both said they are taking the allegations seriously.
“Ross Stores takes labor issues very seriously, and we require our suppliers to uphold our ethical standards,” a spokeswoman for Ross said.
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