Rap mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs claims he gave up sex to train for the November 2 New York City Marathon, which he entered “for the kids.” The workers at the sweatshop in Choloma, Honduras who make Combs’s Sean Jean clothing line give up a lot more than that.
They make 24 cents per $50 Sean Jean sweatshirt, are forced to work unpaid overtime under armed guard, are fired for being pregnant (“for the kids,” right P. Diddy?), and are harassed for trying to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, according to a report released by the National Labor Committee. Eighty per cent of this Southeast Textiles factory in Choloma is used to make Sean Jean wear, the other twenty per cent is used for Rocawear, a line co-founded by Jay-Z and Damon Dash.
This scandal raises the question of what influence music industry figures who get clothing made in sweatshops have upon the Democratic Party, a political institution that works overtime to foster the development of a global sweatshop economy. Jay-Z, along with Phat Farm owner Russell Simmons, recently hosted a fundraiser for Democratic Presidential candidate Al Sharpton at 40/40, Jay-Z’s New York nightclub. P. Diddy backed Democrat Carl McCall for governor of New York last year. According to Electronic Urban Report, Presidential hopefuls Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt, and John Kerry have flown to New York to “curry favor with Russell Simmons.”
We asked the Garment Workers Center in Los Angeles about Simmons’s Phat Farm and they gave a sigh of frustration and explained that, like many clothing companies, Phat Farm gets its work done through a bewildering maze of sub-contractors. GWC did provide RRC with a report in which one of Phat Farm’s contractors admitted it was responsible for embroidering Phat Farm clothes and paid a settlement for unpaid overtime to several workers.
Given the uproar over P. Diddy and sweatshops, shouldn’t Russell Simmons come forward to reveal where and under what conditions Phat Farm clothing is made? The Democratic candidates sucking up to Simmons don’t care-the Democratic party showed its hostility to workers at home and abroad by passing NAFTA and by changing labor law to make it virtually impossible for unions to organize. We do know for sure that neither Phat Farm, Sean Jean, nor Rocawear are made at SweatX (sweatx.net), the unionized Los Angeles clothing company funded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, which union vice-president Noel Beasley told RRC has “a UNITE union contract, decent wages and working conditions.” Jackson Browne, Foo Fighters, and the Indigo Girls have used SweatX and Santana is about to follow suit.
In other words, there is a choice. Why are so many entrepreneurs in the music industry making the wrong one?
LEE BALLINGER is coeditor of our favorite newsletter on music and politics, Rock and Rap Confidential. For a sample issue contact Lee at: Rockrap@aol.com