Fashion Industry Fires Back At Newt Gingrich’s Child Labor Comments

The apparel industry has begun speaking out against comments former House speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made last month, when he called child labor laws “truly stupid.”

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Women’s Wear Daily reports that the apparel industry, which is famously sensitive to the problems of child labor and sweatshops both here and abroad, took umbrage with a speech Gingrich delivered at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In it, Gingrich proposed that schools get rid of unionized janitors and pay students to keep the schools clean as a way to get people working at a younger age and generating income for themselves. Gingrich said, “It’s tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children, in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid,” and that sentiment has apparel industry minders worried that as president, he would open up the floodgates for children to work in cut-and-sew operations.

“This is a particularly sensitive issue because it involves children,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “We as an industry are sensitive to child labor and other industries are as well. We try to set an example in the U.S. for partners around the world to follow their own laws. When you have a candidate for president advocating relaxation in those laws, it calls into question the commitment. I hope the Speaker clarifies his remarks at some point.”

Late last week, Gingrich said he didn’t mean that children should be operating heavy machinery or doing any work that would put them in danger — and he also said kids shouldn’t start working until their mid teens. “On the other hand,” he said, “there are a number of things done to clean buildings that are not heavy or dangerous.”

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But the same doesn’t go for the fashion industry, which has seen a man crushed to death by knitting machine in a California factory and entire factories of workers getting sick from production fumes in Cambodia. Make no mistake: fashion manufacturing is a dangerous business, and if children are allowed to participate in it, it’ll only be a matter of time before someone’s child gets hurt on the job.

[WWD, CBS Boston]

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