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St. Patrick`s pulls crucifixes after sweatshop claims

NewsDay.com  |  November 21, 2007  |  Share  |  Source article

By David Freedlander, amNewYork Staff Writer

November 21, 2007

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.

Church officials vowed to keep the crucifixes off the shelves while they investigate as the faithful expressed chagrin.

Charles Kernaghan, the executive director of the National Labor Committee, the advocacy group that released a report on the crosses, called on St. Patrick's "to move immediately, decisively and with compassion to clean up the factories and to guarantee that the rights of workers are firmly respected."

The report alleged that the crucifixes come from a factory in Guangdong, China, where women, some as young as 15, work more than 90 hours a week for about 26 cents an hour, less than half of China's minimum wage. Kernaghan said workers snuck out evidence and gave it to the labor group.

Kernaghan added that the crucifixes, which cost as little as $1.40 to produce, are sold in church gift shops for $17.95.

"That's a markup that would make even Nike blush," Kernaghan said in a news conference outside St. Patrick's Cathedral Tuesday.

The archdiocese said that it was investigating the matter, but accused the labor group of trying to embarrass the church.

"This individual did not contact us prior to using the cathedral as a stage for a press conference," said Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.

Trinity Church, of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, said in a statement it would "look into this situation," adding: "We are selective in the products we carry and do not support manufacturers who are associated with sweatshop labor."

The report accuses a trade group, the Association for Christian Retail, of knowing about the sweatshops but looking the other way. The group dismissed the allegations as "unfounded and irresponsible."

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. "My God, making religious objects in a sweatshop, that's the last thing we need."

Visitors to St. Patrick's Tuesday were distressed to hear the news. "I'm kind of shocked," said Angie Huntz, 35, of Louisiana. "I think my mom would love to have one of these crosses, but I wouldn't buy one knowing this information."

Chris Malagan, 28, of Ireland, agreed.

"A church, well, you'd think they'd be upholding the basic principles of human rights."

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

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