Like every other football team this fall, the Dallas Cowboys are under a lot of pressure to make it to the Super Bowl. Unlike other teams, the Cowboys also are under pressure to stop baby clothes with their logo from being made in sweatshops.
A new report released last week by The Institute For Global Labour & Human Rights accuses the Dallas Cowboys, through its merchandising company Silver Star, of doing nothing to get the Style Avenue factory in El Salvador to stop abuses of workers who produce baby clothes with logos of the Cowboys and college athletic teams. The report adds other baby clothes with NFL logos are being produced at the factory, and some are sold at Wal-Mart.
The report says women who work in the factory are paid 78 cents an hour or just 10 cents for each $15 infant or toddler "creeper" they sew; are locked in a factory where temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit; work mandatory 19- to 25-hour shifts when garments must be shipped to the U.S.; typically must work 60 hours a week with most overtime unpaid; have access to filthy drinking water and dirty bathrooms; and are verbally abused constantly.
It's the second time recently that the Cowboys have been criticized for using sweatshops to produce college-logo apparel. The United Students Against Sweatshops contended in a New York Times article in September that Silver Star, which has moved into producing college-logo apparel for schools like Ohio State and the University of Southern California, has worked with at least four factories that have egregious sweatshop violations.
When I called the Dallas Cowboys last week, their organization again denied the allegations. "We are extremely disappointed to see our company misrepresented again in this area. These allegations are completely erroneous and have no basis in fact," said Bill Priakos, Silver Star's chief operating officer, in a statement. "We do not, and have never, utilized the Style Avenue factory in El Salvador for the production of any Dallas Cowboys or Silver Star merchandise. We take corporate responsibility very seriously at Silver Star and having certain third parties continuously make false accusations is very troubling. We hope that the people who spread this false information are held accountable for their actions as well."
Meanwhile, Charles Kernaghan, director of the Pittsburgh-based Institute For Global Labour & Human Rights, maintains the charges in the report, Dressing Babies In Sweatshop Clothing; Dallas Cowboys, Ohio State and a Creepy Business; Style Avenue in El Salvador, are true. "The workers recognized the Cowboy stuff immediately," Kernaghan told me. "It's being made there. The Dallas Cowboy organization doesn't know what they're doing. It could be illegal subcontracts, but they are not checking the supply chain at all."
Kernaghan, a longtime advocate for worker rights at factories around the world that have made clothes for retailers including Wal-Mart, Kmart, Nike, JCPenney and more, may be best known for revealing to Congress in 1996 that clothes for the Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line were being made by child laborers in Honduras.
"Frankly our government is not enforcing free-trade agreements. We've seen this all over the world," he says. "The garment workers in the U.S. have been wiped out, and now with the free-trade agreement with South Korea we'll see the textile factories in the U.S. wiped out."
It's not only a major human rights problem that workers are being cheated of their wages and rampantly abused at factories in "emerging" countries that make products for the U.S. market. While U.S. consumers might benefit from somewhat cheaper products, they are hurt even more by this unfair competition that drags down pay in this country and eliminates jobs, which especially hurts now that the U.S. unemployment rate tops 9 percent.
"Most American people are not even aware of the abuses. But someday the American people will force a level playing field so that workers rights will be legally protected ... so we won't be counting on phony monitoring by corporate entities," he says.
The U.S. needs a law that protects workers rights overseas and allows company shareholders to sue if the legislation is not enforced, Kernaghan says. That's unlikely any time soon, but investors can make an enormous impact in individual cases by demanding that U.S. companies stop abuses at their overseas suppliers, he adds.
The Dallas Cowboys organization, for one, says it doesn't ignore abuses. "When issues arise at any factory utilized by Silver Star, they work closely with the factory management to remediate the situation and reach a positive outcome to improve the workplace and correct the issue. Silver Star does not turn its back on the situation and walk away, because that is not the best solution in the long run for the workers," says Brett Daniels, a Cowboys' spokesman.
But Kernaghan doesn't buy it. "The Cowboys can scream and cry all they want, but these infant creepers are being made under miserable conditions and they're going to have to face the music at some point," he says.