CHARLIE KERNAGHAN ON THE SWEATSHOP EMPIRE THAT SEWS YOUR CLOTHES, AND HOW TO FIGHT IT (MF GALAXY 046)
Veteran labour crusader on the 35 million Brown women and girls who clothe the world by being forced to live and work in appalling conditions for sub-poverty wages
Charlie Kernaghan is the executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, a Pittsburgh-based NGO of global labour advocates. They risk their own safety in pursuit of justice for some of the most exploited workers in the world through exposing human and labour rights abuses perpetrated by US companies producing goods in poor countries.
Kernaghan has made his living as furniture mover, carpenter, cab driver, and university instructor, but he began his crusade for workers’ rights in 1985 after participating in a peace march through Central America. In 1990, he became the director of the US-based National Labor Committee, the fore-runner to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
Kernaghan’s international fame came from rattling the chains of one particular celebrity: Kathie Lee Gifford of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford’s name was on a line of clothing from whose profits a portion of proceeds was used to aid disadvantaged American children. The problem? The clothes were made in Honduran sweatshops. By thirteen year-old girls working thirteen-hour shifts for 31 cents an hour. Under armed guard.
After Kernaghan broke that story, Gifford broke into tears on North American television, and she threatened to sue him and the tiny NLC. Her threats crumbled into defeat when she was eventually forced to sign a code of conduct that included independent monitoring, a story detailed in the Canadian documentary The Corporation (http://www.thecorporation.com).
Being known as “the man who made Kathie Lee cry” is enough to endear Kernaghan to many; he’s been written up in Mother Jones magazine, been featured on David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio and gives somewhere around seventy speeches a year while he and the Institute maximise their pressure against plutocrats such as the owners of Wal-Mart and the NBA to ensure justice for the people who make the the products that elevate them to the global top 1% inside the global 1%.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Charlie Kernaghan discusses:
- The typical, miserable working and living conditions for the 35 million women and girls in 2004 who sewed the clothes of the world in sweatshops
- His reaction to the much-repeated lie that transnational sweatshops are improving the quality of life wherever they go
- His advice on how to make your Christmas or year-round shopping less globally exploitative and more just
- What’s far more powerful than mere individual consumer choice on the path to global labour justice, and
- The strategic and moral value of boycotting companies versus boycotting entire countries
Today’s conversation is from sub-level ten inside the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep. Way back during the Christmas shopping rush of December 2004, Charlie Kernaghan spoke with me from his office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by telephone. Please note that back then, his organisation was called the National Labour Committee.
I began by asking Kernaghan about the amount of money US consumers spend on others and themselves to purchase their Christmas cheer, and how little reward would go to the people who actually produced those gifts.
News links from the Institute’s website:
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