by Jasmin Malik Chua, Source: Ecouterre

Looks like Forever 21 isn’t the only apparel label on the hook for promoting sweatshop-like conditions in downtown Los Angeles. Federal and state labor authorities announced on Thursday the discovery of “widespread” labor violations by garment manufacturers that supply to more than 30 of the biggest names in fashion retailing, including Aldo, Burlington Coat Factory, Charlotte Russe, Dillard’s, Home Shopping Network, Rainbow Apparel, Ross Stores, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Urban Outfitters, and Wet Seal.


During an unannounced sweep of a single building in the L.A. Fashion District earlier this year, investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement cited 10 contractors for engaging in “sweatshop practices,” such as paying workers less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (and the California minimum of $8 an hour), falsifying time cards, under-reporting or maintaining inaccurate records of actual hours worked by garment employees, and failing to pay overtime wages. Three of the businesses weren’t even registered as garment contractors, according to authorities.

During a sweep of a single building in the L.A. Fashion District, investigators cited 10 contractors for engaging in “sweatshop practices.”

“The extent of the violations discovered by these investigations was disappointing. Retailers need to actively ensure that clothes produced in the U.S. for sale to the American public are made by workers who are paid at least the U.S. minimum wage and proper overtime,” says Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, in a statement. “Federal, state, local, and industry stakeholders can work together to foster a vibrant, and compliant, domestic fashion industry.”

Investigators found a number of garment workers who were paid not by the hour but according to a “piece rate” for each item they cut or sewed. Nor did any of these employees receive the overtime premium of time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week, as required under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to citing each business for failing to comply with wage laws, authorities also recovered nearly $326,200 in owed wages for 185 employees.

The August investigation is part of an ongoing crackdown of Southern California’s garment industry, particularly in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In the past five years alone, the Wage and Hour Division’s Los Angeles, San Diego and West Covina offices conducted more than 1,500 investigations of the region’s garment-industry employers. Ninety-three percent of those sweeps uncovered violations, including more than $11 million in back pay for around 11,000 workers.

“The garment industry is a vital part of the economy of Los Angeles and California,” says Julie Su, California’s labor commissioner. “State law prohibits garment manufacturers from operating without a proper license, from violating state minimum wage and overtime laws, and from playing shell games to avoid paying workers properly. We are intent on making sure that sweatshop practices are eliminated so that consumers can proudly purchase garments made in L.A., honest companies can compete and garment workers can thrive.”