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Prosecutor: More Kathie Lee clothes were made in sweatshops

December 6, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Kathie Lee Gifford faces new allegations her clothing line was made in sweatshops, except this time the factories are not far off in Honduras but close to home.

The owner of three lower Manhattan factories that made the clothing has agreed to surrender to authorities Monday on charges she violated various labor laws, said David Corvette, a spokesman for State Attorney General Dennis Vacco.

Through a spokesman Friday, Mrs. Gifford acknowledged some of the clothing in her line was made in the factories. Representatives of the Kathie Lee line stopped doing business with the factories Oct. 1.

Vacco said Chinese immigrants there allegedly toiled 60 to 80 hours a week for low wages and sometimes no pay at all. The conditions faced by workers making Kathie Lee clothing and other labels at the Manhattan factories ``resembled something out of a Charles Dickens novel,″ he said.

Mrs. Gifford’s own monitors looked into the factories months ago, but failed to turn up the worst abuses because they couldn’t speak Chinese, said her spokesman, Gary Lewi.

Mrs. Gifford ``is making every effort possible to fight sweatshops,″ said Howard Rubenstein, another Gifford spokesman. ``She will cooperate ... to help stamp out these abuses.″

Last year, the television personality was criticized when labor activists revealed that some of her line sold at Wal-Mart was produced in a Honduran sweatshop. Her husband, Frank Gifford, later visited a grimy New York factory with checks for workers who said they weren’t paid.

Mrs. Gifford testified before Congress, attacking sweatshop owners as ``cockroaches.″

Vacco said state labor authorities began investigating the factories after a complaint by the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, a Chinatown group that fights for worker’s rights.

He said employees worked at times 24 hours straight and weren’t paid for one 10-week period.

Rubenstein said the monitoring service Mrs. Gifford had hired after last year’s scandal was notified in August of possible ``irregularities″ at the factories. In August, her monitors found documentation problems, but in September found the record-keeping in order, Lewi said. They demanded that workers be paid fair wages.

``But we were uncomfortable, still had suspicions and placed the factories on a watch list,″ Lewi said.

Because the monitors did not bring fluent translators with them, they did not discover the same problems state labor investigators found later in September, Lewi said.

``We have learned a lesson,″ he said. ``We must go in with translators, replicate some of the labor department style.″

Asked why there was a gap between the August revelations and any action taken, Rubenstein said the monitors ``didn’t have proof of the violations. They had very serious suspicions.″

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