Little Sweatshop of Horrors?
In what's sure to further damage the new borough-wide "Queens: It's Not the Third World!" publicity campaign*, the New York State Department of Labor has slammed the door on an apparent sweatshop in Long Island City.
The Jin Shun International clothing factory was raided yesterday afternoon, and now the high-end retailers it sold to are tripping over themselves to put some distance between their public faces and the ugly backroom reality that just had a very bright light shined on it. Labor officials say Jin Shun made garments for Macy's, Victoria's Secret and The Gap (because, well, of course) just to name a few -- all while paying its workers pennies. The company reportedly shortchanged its staff of mostly Chinese immigrants around $5 million over the last six years. It also allegedly required them to keep separate weekly time cards to prevent any official record of how many hours they were putting in, while teaching them to lie to any Department of Labor inspectors who might get curious.
The Gap was one of the first of the Jin Shun retailers to respond to news of the raid, having had a certain amount of experience in dealing with allegations of using sweatshop labor. The company released an official statement to Forbes.com, saying that it is "committed to doing business in a socially responsible way, and we take this matter extremely seriously. We appreciate the New York Department of Labor bringing this to our attention, and we plan to fully cooperate with authorities to ensure the workers are treated fairly." The Gap says it has no current production line in the Queens facility and promises to suspend its association with Jin Shun. Macy's meanwhile claims to have started its own internal investigation into the matter.
During the raid, the Labor Department tagged more than 10,000 items with a label reading: "Legal wages have not been paid for the manufacture of this garment." Urban Apparel, the company that hired Jin Shun for the line, has already paid 60-grand to have the tags removed -- despite the fact that in certain areas of New York City, such a label probably qualifies a garment as "Collection."
The owners of Jin Shun, in addition to possibly being forced to pay out millions to its workers, could now face criminal charges.
*Keep in mind, this follows the recent story of a grandmother accused of funneling Mexican sex slaves into two apartments in the Corona area of Queens.