Senators (Incl. Hilary) Call For ‘Sweatshop-Free Barbie’

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 7:20
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Titles like this one are ones that pretty much jump off the RSS feed as I I enjoy my Free Trade Starbucks Lattes in the morning.  It was just days before that I had seen the well written piece American Imports, Chinese Deaths and the announcement that theInternational Labor Rights Forum Critiques Wal-Mart’s Sourcing Practices.. and the article of this title seemed to fit right in

What I came to understand is that 14 months ago, before the prduct recalls, several Senators (with 60 cosponsors) put forward an ammendment to a previous bill that banned the importation of “convict goods” (convict goods are those goods that are made by, you guessed it, convicts). to treat “sweat shop” goods as if they were “convict goods”.

Now, before I get into the specifics of the bill, I will say that the timing of this bill is interesting as I seem to remember a lot of trade rhetoric flying around.. and my impression is that some of the support for this bill was coming not from people really concerned about the rights of China’s labor …

In terms of the bill (full text here/ one page overview in PDF here) though, I must applaud the fact that congress is taking the half measure it is by mandating a ban on sweatshop conditions, and laying out the remedies for those cases…

According to the text of the bill, It is unlawful for any person to:

  1. import into the United States any convict-made good;
  2. import into, or export from, the United States any sweatshop good;
  3. introduce into commerce, sell, trade, or advertise in commerce, offer to sell, or transport or distribute in commerce in the United States, any sweatshop good.’

And in cases where one of the above occurs:

Private Suits- A person with standing to sue under subsection (c) may bring a civil action against any seller of goods, wares, articles, or merchandise on grounds of violation of section 201.

Standing to Sue- The followings persons have standing to sue under this section:

    • (1) Competitors of the retailer of any good, ware, article, or merchandise sold in violation of section 201.

      (2) Investors of the retailer of any good, ware, article, or merchandise sold in violation of section 201.

      (3) Any employee of a person against whom an enforcement action has been brought for a violation of section 307 of the Tariff Act (19 U.S.C. 1307), as amended by this Act.

      (4) Any labor organization representing employees of the manufacturer or contractor or representing employees in the same industry or sector.

and when found guilty, the Damages; Injunctive Relief; Attorney Costs and Fees-

1) DAMAGES- When a violation of section 201 is established in any civil action arising under this section, the plaintiff shall be entitled to recover $10,000 or the fair market value of the goods, whichever is greater.(2) INJUNCTIVE RELIEF- The plaintiff may sue for injunctive relief against threatened loss or damage due to a violation of section 201.

(3) COSTS AND FEES- The court shall award the cost of the suit, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, to a prevailing plaintiff.

At first glance, the above looks great, and the bill looks to be one of those that should have been in place a long time ago.. but then I found the hole… the hole that lead me to believe that this is note legislation to protect consumers or labor, but is a policy tool that can be used to hinder Chinese competition.

My “evidence”…

In terms of those who are “standing to sue”, the only entities eligible are competitors of those who are selling the good or investors in the entity selling the good.  What about the average consumer?  Why is it that Mr. and Mrs. J Q Pubic able to bring a suit against a retailer found to outsource to sweatshops?

Were the government really looking to prevent the abuse of labor in China, they would place more pressure on U.S. retailers and their middle men by exposing them to consumer complaints.  However they do not.

Instead, what they allow U.S. retailers, Labor unions, and employee to sue those who they feel are using sweat shop or prison labor to reduce their overhead…

While maybe not supporting sweat shops, I wonder if the recent signage of Michigan Senate Bill 632 expanding allowable prison labor sales on October 1, 2007 provided anyone with the sense of a double standard?

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