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Fashion

Forever 21 Compelled By Federal Judge To Comply with 'Sweatshop' Investigation

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Thu, Mar 14, 2013 at 5:07 PM

click to enlarge RAJIV PATEL (RAJIV'S VIEW)/FLICKR
Read L.A. Weekly's feature story, "Sweatshops Are Fashion's Dirty Little Secret. But They Don't Exist in L.A. -- Do They?"

Forever 21 founders and husband-and-wife team Do Won Chang and Jin Sook can't duck the federal government anymore.

On March 7, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow ordered the wildly popular Los Angeles-based fashion retailer to comply with a subpoena issued by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division and turn over documents involving wages, hours, and employment practices at Forever 21's contractors and manufacturers.

For months, Forever 21 executives have refused to hand over the documents to the feds. Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the department's West division, told the Los Angeles Times that investigators have found that dozens of vendors for Forever 21 have been operating under "sweatshop-like conditions."

For the L.A. Weekly story on sweatshops, staff writer Gendy Alimurung explained that "the complexity of the garment industry makes it especially hard to police. It's a three-tier system. The contractor does the sewing. They're hired by manufacturers, who get contracts from retailers."

Ruben Rosalez told the Weekly, "Everyone wants to make a little bit of money. Our theory is that the retailer is really the one who controls everything all the way down."

Jin Sook and Do Won Chang have made more than their share of a "little bit of money."

As of March 2013, Forbes magazine estimates that the husband and wife are worth $4.5 billion.

U.S. Department of Labor officials say there have been "widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions in the Southern California apparel industry," and that the Forever 21 investigation is ongoing.

Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith says in a press release that the judge's order "underscores that everyone in the supply chain has a responsibility to ensure that workers receive the federal minimum wage and earned overtime, and it demonstrates our commitment to enforcing those protections despite tactics designed to obscure the employment relationship."

Forever 21 executives must hand over the documents to the feds by March 17.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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