The Pentagon Peddles Sweatshop Goods

When he was mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo was charged with nepotism in the hiring of the city fire commissioner, to which he responded: "Whaddaya mean nepotism? He's my brother!"

Likewise, the Pentagon seems confused on the concept of ethical dealings -— not over the hiring of relatives, but in the buying of some of its supplies. In particular, the Air Force Exchange Service, which runs 1,400 stores on U.S. military bases around the world, hauling in some $7 billion a year in sales, has been getting much of the apparel that it sells in these stores from a notorious sweatshop in Nicaragua. This violates policy, regulations, common decency, ... and our nation's moral principles.

The Chentex factory, owned by a Taiwanese textile conglomerate, employs 1,800 workers who sew 35,000 pair of jeans a day. The jeans retail in the Exchange stores for about $30 a pair, but the workers are paid only 20 cents for each pair, which adds up to an abysmal sub-poverty wage even in impoverished Nicaragua. Also, Chentex workers are not allowed to go to the bathroom without being monitored, they work up to 70 hours a week (including forced overtime), and it's not unusual for them to be screamed at and hit by factory managers.

Not surprisingly, to try to improve conditions, many have attempted to form a union, demanding an 8-cent increase in pay for each pair of jeans that they make—an increase that obviously would have no impact on the consumer price and would not pinch corporate profits. Yet, when more than 150 of them went on strike for this modicum of fairness, Chentex fired them.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... The Pentagon is one of this sweatshop's largest customers, meaning your and my tax dollars keep it in business. Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia is working to stop the Pentagon from coddling sweatshop labor by requiring any supplier to pay workers fairly and treat them decently. To learn how you can help, call Rep. McKiney's office: 202-225-1605.

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