P. Diddy clothing line accused of using Honduran sweatshop labor

Tuesday, October 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Sean John, the clothing line of rap music mogul Sean ``P. Diddy'' Combs, is under scrutiny from a workers' rights group for allegedly using laborers from a Honduran sweatshop.

The director of the anti-sweatshop National Labor Committee, Charles Kernaghan, released a report Tuesday detailing poor working conditions at the Southeast Textiles factory in Choloma, Honduras, where Sean John clothes are made.

Kernaghan and 19-year-old Lydda Eli Gonzalez, a former worker at the factory, stood outside the site of a Sean John store set to open next spring as Gonzalez described the alleged abuses that took place at the factory.

``We should be paid what we're owed. We make so little that it's not enough to have a dignified life,'' said Gonzalez, who said she was fired after she tried to organize a union.

Workers are subjected to daily body searches, contaminated drinking water and 11- to 12-hour daily shifts, the report said. In exchange, they are paid 24 cents for each $50 Sean John sweat shirt they sew.

But the factory owner, Steve Hawkins, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Gonzalez was a disgruntled worker fired for producing poor quality merchandise, not clocking in when she arrived and repeatedly arriving late.

Hawkins, a native of North Carolina, said the charge that conditions at his factory were substandard ``is completely groundless.''

When Gonzalez was fired, she received a severance check equivalent to two-and-a-half months salary, Hawkins said. And while the minimum wage in Honduras is 55 cents an hour, he said his workers make an average of 90 cents per hour.

A representative of Sean John said the clothing line was unaware of the conditions alleged by Kernaghan.

``We had absolutely no knowledge of the situation; however, we take these matters very seriously,'' said Jeff Tweedy, executive vice president of Sean John. ``We have a director of compliance who will be looking into this matter immediately.''

The report also found women were given mandatory pregnancy tests, and that those who tested positive were fired, Kernaghan said.

The abuses are violations of Honduran labor laws but are rarely enforced for fear of corporate divestment, Kernaghan said. His organization's repeated attempts to contact Sean John have gone without a response, he said.

Kernaghan said the study was not an attack on Combs.

``This is his company,'' Kernaghan said, pointing toward the store at Fifth Avenue and 41st Street. ``He could turn this around tomorrow. He could set a new standard.''

The goal, Kernaghan said, is not to have Sean John pull out of Honduras and leave the workers jobless but to improve working conditions and eliminate human rights abuses.

According to the report, about 80 percent of the Southeast Textiles factory production is for the Sean John clothing line. The other 20 percent is for Rocawear, co-founded by rapper and producer Jay-Z and rap music producer Damon Dash.

A call placed to Rocawear after business hours Monday wasn't returned.