TJ Maxx, Forever 21, Macy's and Nordstrom Guilty of Using California Sweatshops

Yahoo Style
TJ Maxx, Forever 21, Macy's and Nordstrom Guilty of Using California Sweatshops

Sweatshops are not just a problem overseas.

In a news conference this week, the U.S. Department of Labor revealed it conducted 77 investigations this year at “randomly selected garment contractors in Southern California and found violations 85 percent of the time,” according to Southern California Public Radio.

The Wage & Hour Division shared the news in a series of tweets.

The contractors at fault were mostly making clothes for popular bargain retailers such as TJ Maxx and Ross. However, while it may be easier to believe that bargain clothing actually does come at a cost, they also found violations at factories used by Nordstrom.

The most common federal crimes were failure to pay the minimum wage and overtime. Investigators found $1.3 million worth of back wages were owed to 865 workers.

A seamstress who’s been working for 40 years got $7,598 in back wages.

One of the factories at fault is Roger Garments in Montebello, Calif., which makes products for Macy’s. Roger Garments owed $93,000 in overtime and minimum wage back wages for 44 workers, according to SCPR.

Los Angeles-based EVE LA Inc., a garment contractor that makes goods for the online retailer Nasty Girl, owed nearly $87,000 in unpaid wages to 37 employees. Investigators found “workers there were paid flat weekly salaries of just $270 for 50 hour work weeks.”

“Officials say most workers in the garment industry are immigrants with limited English skills who often don’t know their rights and are afraid to speak up, and that retailers often look the other way, only caring about getting the cheapest labor costs,” says SCPR.

While sweatshops are hardly new discoveries, officials say the number of violations are now disturbingly at record highs.

Ross is the guiltiest culprit; investigators found their goods at 11 factories, the most of any retailer, and according to SCPR, they found Forever 21 and TJ Maxx items at seven factories, making them the second and third most frequent offenders. The factories also produced clothes sold at Dillard’s, Charlotte Russe, Windsor and Fashion Nova, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

While the Department of Labor cannot penalize the retailers, they’ve met with the offending retailers and they “acknowledged a problem.”

“We have sweatshops in America,” said Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. “Our next step is to try and engage the retailers. We’d like them to do monitoring. They really have the power at the top.”

In response to the investigation, a spokeswoman for Ross told WWD, “Ross Stores takes labor issues very seriously and we require our suppliers to uphold our ethical standards. We also work with the Department of Labor to make sure our vendors understand and comply with the applicable federal, state, local and international laws related to products we purchase and sell, and this is an ongoing and continuous effort.”

Forever 21 also issued a statement and shared it with Yahoo Style: “Forever 21 supports the Department of Labor’s efforts to enforce the wage laws in California. Forever 21 takes these issues very seriously, and requires all of its vendors to comply with these laws. In this regard, Forever 21 has met with the Department of Labor and is cooperating with them. Forever 21 applauds the Department’s order that provides restitution to the affected workers. Importantly, the Department of Labor’s survey targets the alleged business practices of third party vendors, and their selected independent contractors, not retailers like Forever 21. Forever 21 does not own or operate any of the third party vendors or contractors involved. These entities are completely independent of Forever 21 and make independent business decisions.”

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