New York state labor officials are bringing one of their largest cases ever against Jin Shun, a clothing factory in Queens, New York that employed Chinese immigrants. Inspectors say the company
- cheated its workers out of more than $5 million in pay;
- instructed workers to lie to state inspectors;
- required 6 and 7-day workweeks, sometimes for up to 120 days at a time;
- didn’t pay overtime or minimum wage;
- kept two sets of timecards to fake-out inspectors.
Macy’s says they’re “very concerned” about the case and are investigating it, the Gap says they’re cooperating with authorities, and Victoria’s Secret says they have a “zero tolerance policy” for factories that are unwilling to work with them to achieve compliance—all of which makes us wonder whether any of these companies ever investigated the factory personally. (It’s not like it was in some remote part of China.)
Urban Apparel, which apparently faced a large inventory issue, took more practical steps:
The Labor Department announced that on Wednesday morning it placed special tags on more than 10,000 items of Jin Shun’s apparel, stating that the garments were produced under unlawful conditions.
Within hours of that tagging, the clothing company Urban Apparel paid state officials $60,000 to have the tags removed. The money covered the amount of wage violations that the department found had occurred when employees were making the tagged garments.
The factory, which was previously named Venture 47 and has recently been renamed Garlee NY, was quite blatant about lying to inspectors:
State officials said that the instructions given to employees, written in English and Mandarin, told them that if government inspectors ever asked them how many hours they worked each week, they were to respond, “Not sure, depends on the workload.”
The instructions told the workers that if inspectors asked how much they earned, they should respond, “I don’t remember, because sometimes I work more hours and sometimes less.”
The instruction sheet told the workers that if they were asked, “What is your hourly wage?” they were to answer, “Not sure, but always over $7.75 depending on the job complexity.” Even though the workers were paid at a fixed rate per piece of work performed and partly in cash, they were told to answer that they were always paid by the hour and through direct deposit.
You may be wondering how you can enforce your own anti-sweatshop policy when shopping, but of course without strict oversight from the big apparel companies, you’re not left with many choices. One thing you can do is try to shop from companies that have taken a strong anti-sweatshop stance, such as American Apparel, or from companies like Busted Tees that use American Apparel shirts. Other than that, you have to rely on “made in ___” labels—Dana Thomas from Newsweek tells NPR that in general, U.S. labeling laws are far stricter than European and can be trusted more, but the Queens factory proves that’s not always the case. You can also demand stronger oversight from officials and apparel companies—although how you “demand” such a thing is a rather good question.
“Apparel Factory Workers Were Cheated, State Says “ [New York Times]