Watchdog Report Accused Pennsylvania Democratic Candidate’s Former Company of Involvement With Chinese Sweatshops

2004 report said workers paid 35 cents an hour, one plant a 'well-run prison'

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Pennsylvania Democratic congressional candidate Chrissy Houlahan's former apparel company was accused of working with Chinese "sweatshops," a 2004 watchdog report claimed.

The report, authored by the National Labor Committee—now called the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights—and China Labor Watch, detailed the working conditions in shoe factories in China. The report described one factory as a "well-run prison" whose workers are "in a trap, stripped of their rights." The workers are said to work upwards of 100 hours a week for 35 cents an hour.

Though the report focused on Plant F in Pou Yuen, which manufactured shoes for Puma, it noted that workers at Plant D in Pou Yuen where AND1 shoes were manufactured faced working conditions that were "extremely similar if not exactly the same."

Houlahan, who is running against Rep. Ryan Costello (R) in Pennsylvania’s 6th district, moved on from the company in the years after the report was published but was a top executive at AND1 during 2004. Her campaign website touts her years serving as "as COO of AND1 Basketball, helping transform the company from a startup to a major apparel and footwear brand." She has defended AND1's manufacturing processes and called criticism of the company "relatively hollow."

"We worked very aggressively to have a very rigorous code of conduct for our manufacturers," Houlahan told City & State Pennsylvania—which first broke news of the report. "We conducted very rigorous audits of all of our factories. We had American expats embedded in all of our factories."

The report, however, outlines different ways representatives from Puma and AND1 were duped by factory management and calls them "gullible." Accounts from workers included in the report tell of brutal working conditions, inedible food, and workers disfigured by their work.

"We work from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. Under our conditions, it appears that over half the workers are starving," one anonymous worker said in the report.

"Before the lunch period arrives, the workers’ stomachs are rumbling. They enter the cafeteria in groups of 20 and eat food that looks like pig slop. They have no choice," another said.

Both workers claimed employees' hands are changed in a frightening way after years of working at the shoe factory.

"On the shaping line, you can see workers gluing soles," one worker said. "You can tell by their hands how long they have been working here. Change in shape is very pronounced. It makes people who see it frightened."

Pay is also highlighted as a serious problem in the report with workers commonly paid low wages and routinely denied the wages they're owed by law.

"Base wage is just 31 cents an hour, $2.48 a day, and $12.56 a week," the report said. "Even including all overtime and production bonuses, the average take-home wage is still just 35 cents an hour and $20.93 for a 60-hour workweek. Workers are routinely cheated of the legal overtime wage due them. Sometimes management withholds up to 20 percent of the workers’ wages as punishment for failing to meet production goals."

Rep. Costello's campaign said the report is evidence of Houlahan's greed. "This is just the first example of what greedy Chrissy Houlahan will do to turn a profit," Andrea Bozek, a Ryan Costello campaign spokeswoman, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Her company exploited and abused Chinese laborers for years, and she stood by and did nothing, clearly not a leader Pennsylvania families deserve."

The Republican Party laid the blame for the workers' mistreatment at Houlahan's feet. "Greedy Chrissy takes full credit for spearheading the decision to outsource production to China," Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, told the Free Beacon. "The laborers were abused, exploited, and even told to lie to international auditors who inspected the abhorrent working conditions."

"In my opinion, this criticism is relatively hollow," Houlahan told City & State. "This company was started from scratch in the 1990s when a lot of our manufacturing was being done overseas. Ninety percent of footwear is made overseas."

Stephen Gutowski   Email Stephen | Full Bio | RSS
Stephen Gutowski is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He founded his own site as a junior in college and has been writing about news and politics since that time. He spent 4 years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. His email address is Gutowski@FreeBeacon.com. His twitter handle is @StephenGutowski.

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