Garment Industry:

Efforts to Address the Prevalence and Conditions of Sweatshops

HEHS-95-29: Published: Nov 2, 1994. Publicly Released: Nov 9, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on sweatshops in the U.S. garment industry, focusing on: (1) the number of sweatshops in existence; and (2) whether the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has taken any action to enforce labor laws in garment industry sweatshops.

GAO found that: (1) the number of sweatshops in the U.S. garment industry has increased since 1989 due to Fair Labor Standards Act enforcement and recordkeeping weaknesses, the lack of enforcement resources, and the price-competitive nature of the garment industry which gives manufacturers and contractors incentives to break labor laws; (2) although Labor has attempted to coordinate its enforcement efforts, legal and administrative limitations have constrained these actions; (3) although WHD refers some sweatshop operations to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it receives little information in return because IRS is legally prohibited from sharing certain information; (4) WHD coordination with state labor departments varies widely depending on states' emphasis on combatting sweatshop working conditions; (5) since 1992, WHD has attempted to supplement its enforcement efforts by encouraging garment manufacturers to voluntary oversee its contractors and educating garment manufacturers on their employment-related responsibilities; and (6) WHD voluntary compliance efforts could reduce the amount of regulation required and permit WHD to better allocate its enforcement resources.

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