The Industry’s Newest PR Problem?

Well, this subject was probably bound to come up sooner or later …

So, last month, a news conference was held, on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in New York, regarding conditions in a Chinese factory that makes inspirational jewelry and other items stocked in the St. Pat’s gift store. Here is some of what was said:

Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, a labor rights group, said … that the  factory workers toil under “horrific” conditions. He said the workers, mostly young females, work from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. seven days a week for 26.5 cents an hour with no sick or vacation time.

Kernaghan said workers making the crucifixes, which are sold at religious gift shops, live in unsanitary dormitories and are fed a watery “slop.”

Lovely. The news conference then led to this:

 
St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church pulled crucifixes from their gift shops Tuesday after stunning allegations that the items are produced in Chinese sweatshops.

 

The crosses are supplied by the Singer Co., a Mount Vernon-based “inspirational jewelry” concern. “We are not a Nike or a big corporation that can inspect every single factory,” said company president Gerald Singer, who vowed to investigate the matter.

 

Apparently, he did, because this later appeared in his local newspaper:

Gerald Singer, co-owner of the Singer Co., said his company was in touch with Full Start Ltd., which owns the factory, and Full Start gave its assurances that the factory does not employ anyone under 18 and pays wages that comply with Chinese law.

He said Full Start officials admitted that workers in the factory, which is in Dongguan, a city near Hong Kong, sometimes work up to 84 hours in a week, a violation of labor law in China …

“At this point, we’re supporting the factory and we’re not going to change our mind until somebody shows us that this is a sweatshop,” Singer said. …

Singer said Full Start promised to see that workers no longer work excessive hours …

Look, I don’t know the truth here. The Singer people may sincerely be trying to do the right thing. And, I should note, most of the product in question is not high-end jewelry, and not the kind of items JCK readers tend to stock.  

 

Even so, “I am not a big company and can’t examine every factory” will not cut it anymore. If the “blood diamond” issue has taught us anything, it’s that this industry — and, indeed, any industry — needs to take total responsibility for everything it produces. And with so much manufacturing moving to the Third World, I think we’re going to hear a lot more about these issues.

 

Here is an excellent commentary that makes a similar point, about yet another topic in yet another part of the world.


UPDATE:
More of Singer’s response here and here.

JCK News Director