Sweatshop code wonâ??t do it

Someone should have told Julia Pleites the good news. Better yet, someone should tell the news to her bosses at the El Salvadorian factory where she sews Nike shirts that sell here for $70 each.

Pleites works six days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She is forced to work overtime, but she doesn't get paid for it. Indeed, Pleites is paid only $4.79 a day.

She lives in abject poverty in a 10-by-12 foot room along with her mother and her 3-year-old daughter. They have no indoor plumbing. "I can only buy milk for my daughter maybe once every two weeks," she reports. "I give her lemonade instead."

Pleites wasn't invited to the big whoop-de-do of a press conference announcing the industry's code of conduct. One reason she might have been left out is that their "code" delicately avoids the issue of exploitative wages paid to people like Pleites -- which, of course, is the main issue for her.

Instead, the code focuses on working conditions. But Pleites could tell them about this, too. Her factory -- located in a free-trade zone supported by your and my tax dollars -- has no air conditioning and poor ventilation.

But those aren't the only problems with the working conditions. Employees at the factory must sit all day on hard benches with no back support -- no cushions allowed. There's no breakroom -- hell, there's not even toilet paper in the bathrooms! And when you exit the factory, you're body-searched. Can't have anyone stealing a $70 shirt, after all.;;

Julia Pleites never heard of the industry's code of conduct. Big surprise, since under it, 95 percent of their sweatshops are excluded from inspection, and the other 5 percent are inspected by monitors chosen and paid for by the companies.

This much-hyped code of conduct isn't sweatshop curtailment. It's a sweatshop cover-up.


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