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Gifford to Help Reich in War on Sweatshops

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stung by recent disclosures that clothing bearing her name was made in sweatshops, Kathie Lee Gifford said she will help Labor Secretary Robert Reich organize a public forum to pressure retailers and manufacturers to more closely scrutinize contractors for labor violations.

Reich and Gifford unveiled their plans for a “Fashion Industry Forum” at a news conference Friday in New York City. They said they hoped to enlist other celebrities to speak out against exploitation in the garment industry at a July 16 forum in Washington, D.C.

Reich said the Labor Department plans to release a report card on garment industry efforts to root out labor violations such as child labor and failure to pay overtime and the minimum wage.

“Consumers need to be more aware of the nature and extent of the problem, but we also want commitments from manufacturers and retailers to police the problem,” Reich said in a telephone interview. “The federal government . . . doesn’t have the resources to police this alone.”

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More than half the nation’s 22,000 garment makers pay less than the minimum wage, Reich said.

Gifford, co-star of the “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” television program, sells her clothing line at Wal-Mart stores. Dale Ingram, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Gifford plans to hire an organization independent of Wal-Mart to monitor sewing shops that produce her line.

Wal-Mart plans to review its own inspection process, he added, and is considering hiring an independent monitor to scrutinize sewing shops that make its private-label clothing.

“Everyone realizes that one retailer and one celebrity cannot solve this problem,” he said.

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Wal-Mart and Gifford became embroiled in the sweatshop controversy last month when activists revealed that some of her clothing line was being produced by poorly paid, underage laborers in Honduras.

The controversy expanded last week after disclosures that some of Gifford’s signature clothing was produced at a New York sweatshop.

On Thursday, Kathie Lee Gifford appeared with New York Gov. George Pataki as he announced that legislation would be introduced to outlaw the sale or distribution of clothing made by companies that cheat workers of their wages.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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