Sweatshop monitors finger Ontario school uniform supplier

  • April 11, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - A Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) investigation says that a company that makes socks for the largest school uniform supplier in Ontario is in violation of its anti-sweatshop policies.

Workers at the Lianglong Socks Ltd. factory in Zhuji City, China, are sleeping in unheated dormitories and working unpaid overtime in a factory deemed dirty, unhealthy and unsafe, according to the WRC. For a lot of Catholic school students across Ontario, that’s an issue.
Lianglong Socks Ltd. makes socks that are part of school uniforms marketed by R.J. McCarthy .

The WRC investigated the Lianglong Socks factory on behalf of nine Catholic school boards who together form an affiliate of the Washington-based organization. There are three other school boards with ethical uniform procurement policies who don’t participate in the consortium program to monitor factories. WRC investigators found the Lianglong factory in violation of Chinese labour law — failing to pay the legal minimum wage, failing to pay for injury compensation or maternity leave and falsifying payroll and employee records. They also found workers were coached to lie to inspectors about working conditions.

R.J. McCarthy president Martin McCarthy said the problems at Lianglong Socks can be fixed, and when students go back to school in the fall they can have confidence uniforms they buy will be sweat-free.

“These things are all fixable. WRC and ourselves have had many discussions about this and we are in agreement that we should try to influence through the power of our orders with them to move along their improvements as quickly as possible. It’s worth working with them,” McCarthy said.

The factory in question is new and the problems with the dormitories and health and safety violations are largely start-up glitches, McCarthy said. The violations of Chinese labour law are common to many large employers in China who are adjusting to a recently revised labour code, he added.

Though R.J. McCarthy is a relatively minor buyer from Lianglong, McCarthy said his company would work with other companies that source from the factory to push factory management into making changes.

“I’m pleased to hear that Martin McCarthy is going to take responsibility, but it’s important to note here that the exposure of this situation has not been from McCarthy’s initiative,” said Lori Ryan, youth programs officer for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, who co-ordinates activities for the Ontario Catholic No Sweat Network. “It’s clearly been from an outside group of students and consumers and groups that are saying we need independent, third-party monitoring to find out.”

This is the second time WRC has found worker rights violations in a factory producing Ontario school uniforms. An earlier investigation of the Empresas T&M factory, which produces uniforms for Halpern’s Ltd., found unpaid wages and unsafe drinking water in the factory.

Empresas T&M worked out an agreement to remedy the violations, which WRC has yet to verify.

The nine Catholic school boards who are paying WRC for third party factory inspections and monitoring are Durham Catholic District School Board, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, Halton Catholic District School Board, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board, St. Clair Catholic District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board and York Catholic District School Board.

The nine members of the WRC Ontario Catholic School board affiliate pay $10,000 to participate in the program. The fees would reduce if more boards joined.

There are 35 Catholic school boards in Ontario.

Whether other boards join the WRC affiliate for Ontario Catholic school boards is purely a local decision, said Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president Bernard Murray.

“All of our boards do support the principle of social justice, and that’s what really this is all about,” Murray said.

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