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Pact To Curb Sweatshop Abuse

Consumers may have to reach deeper into their wallets to help raise the standards of clothing workers in sweatshops, reports CBS News Correspondent Ed Crane.

The price of everything from running shoes to name brand fashions may soon be going up as a result of an agreement reached by a coalition of human rights groups and apparel manufacturers to abandon sweatshop conditions at their overseas factories.

The pact calls for the companies to pay the local minimum wage or better to workers, bans the use of child labor and limits the work week to a maximum of sixty hours. A special labor panel will be set up to monitor compliance.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Nike, Reebok, Kathie Lee Gifford, Liz Clairborne, Phillips Van Heusen, L.L. Bean, Patagonia and Nicole Miller are among the companies that negotiated and accepted the agreement.

The coalition also said it hopes to reassure consumers that clothing is not made in sweatshops.

The agreement is the result of work done by an 18-member White House task force set up in 1996 after it was discovered that Kathie Lee Gifford's clothing line was made in sweatshops.

The nation's leading apparel union has already criticized the proposal, saying it does not commit companies to paying workers a "living wage" or address manufacturing in countries with human rights problems.

"This agreement's not very good," said Mark Levinson, director of research at the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

"How can you talk about eliminating sweatshops without making a commitment to pay a living wage? And the agreement allows companies to produce in countries that systematically deny workers rights," Levinson said

Under the pact, American manufacturers pledged not to do business with companies that use forced labor or require employees to work more than 60 hours a week. It also prohibits companies from hiring children younger than 15, unless they're in countries those at age 14 can legally work.

President Clinton praised the accord as a "historic step."

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said, "The administration is convinced that this agreement lays the foundation to eliminate sweatshop labor, here and abroad."

The agreement also requires companies to pay the minimum wage mandated by local law or the industry standard, depending on which is higher, but labor unions claim in many countries the minimum wage is too low to support a family.

The proposed watchdog group, the Fair Labor Association, would oversee compliance and certify the monitors that investigate the factories.

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