Gingrich’s Child Labor Comments Concern Fashion Industry Leaders

In the seemingly never-ending dog and pony show that primary elections have become, some candidates would be willing to say almost anything to grab the attention of a fickle 24-hour news cycle. So perhaps it was for that reason that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently went on record as saying that US child labor laws were “truly stupid.” The comment, which came during a speech Gingrich was giving at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was in reference to a theoretical program Gingrich has been promoting to improve work ethic in poor neighborhoods while cutting the government’s costs. Gingrich’s suggestion is that public schools do away with unionized janitors in favor of paying students to keep the buildings clean.

However the comments regarding child labor laws have earned Mr. Gingrich plenty of reproach from the US fashion industry where sweat shop labor, often involving children, is treated as a very serious matter. Kevin Burke President and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association had the following warning for the presidential hopeful:

“This is a particularly sensitive issue because it involves children, we as an industry are sensitive to child labor and other industries are as well. We try to set an example in the US for partners around the world to follow their own laws. When you have a candidate for president advocating relaxation of those laws, it calls into question the commitment. I hope the Speaker clarifies his remarks at some point.”

Toward the end of last week Gingrich did clarify, saying that in no way was he suggesting that children should be operating heavy machinery or doing anything dangerous. Though sometimes the dangers faced by workers in the fashion industry are not obvious to the outside observer, or even the workers themselves until it is too late. This year alone has seen workers in Cambodia fall ill due to fumes generated by production machinery and deaths in Turkey that have been attributed to silicosis, a disease of the lungs caused by breathing in silica fumes generated when distressing denim in an improperly ventilated work space. These are just a few examples but they highlights the hidden risks faced by many textile and garment workers, so it is safe to say that if Gingrich or any other politician even attempted to roll back child labor laws, for whatever reason, they had better not expect any support from the US fashion industry.

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