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Labor Group Says St. Patrick's Sells Sweatshop Goods

New York Times  |  November 21, 2007  |  Share  |  Source article


November 21, 2007

A workers' rights group yesterday accused St. Patrick's Cathedral of selling religious items made under terrible conditions in sweatshop factories in China.

The group, the National Labor Committee, which has unearthed past examples of abusive work conditions, said it had bought crucifixes in the Roman Catholic cathedral that had been assembled by workers toiling under deplorable conditions. At a morning news conference outside St. Patrick's, Charles Kernaghan, the group's executive director, brandished one of the crucifixes from the shop.

"It is immoral, it is unjust and it has to change," he said.

Mr. Kernaghan, a veteran of battles with industries over the treatment of foreign workers, said the six-inch wooden crucifix and other religious articles were frequently made by women who toiled for pennies an hour in an unrelenting grind of assembly work.

Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said yesterday that the archdiocese would investigate the charges. He said that Mr. Kernaghan's news conference was the first time he had heard of the claim, adding that the gift shop buys its items from a variety of religious dealers.

"I am sure the cathedral gift shop directors will look into this now that it has been raised," Mr. Zweilling said. "I don't know at this point what the facts are."

Mr. Kernaghan listed his charges of labor abuse: He said the women work seven days a week, 100 hours per week, with no days off, adding that they get meager soup to eat while staying in primitive dormitories with filthy walls and moss on the floor.

"I believe that St. Patrick's Cathedral has no idea about the conditions under which these crucifixes are made," he said. "I think now that they do, they will act immediately, decisively and with compassion to clean up these factories."

A spokeswoman for the United Nations mission for the People's Republic of China referred questions to the country's embassy in Washington. The embassy did not respond to a voice-mail message left yesterday.

Mr. Kernaghan acknowledged that information on the factories was sketchy, particularly when it comes to matching particular products with specific factories. The only proof he had regarding the crucifix at St. Patrick's is a serial number that matches a factory work order, and a picture that looks similar to the crucifix he held at the news conference.

"This stuff is all anecdotal," he said. "It comes to us from the workers."

Bill Anderson, president of the Association for Christian Retail, a trade group, said in a statement yesterday that Mr. Kernaghan's claims about manufacture of religious items overseas were "unfounded and irresponsible." He said the group has never received concrete proof that items sold by its members were manufactured in sweatshops. In fact, he said, the organization's members make regular trips to overseas factories to "ensure quality control as well as inspect working conditions."

Mr. Kernaghan said the crucifix from the cathedral's gift shop appeared to have been sold by the Singer Company of Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Gerald Singer, whose family has owned the business since 1940, said that about 25 percent of his company's items were made in China, and that the company had worked with a manufacturer there for the past seven years without any problems. He said the manufacturer was having trouble meeting an order earlier this year and might have sent out the work for another company to do.

Although Mr. Singer said there was no proof that the item had been made under poor conditions, he said, "We don't condone nor would we allow any of our products to be made in a sweatshop."


Click here for the NLC's November 2007 report on sweatshop crucifixes

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