The heat was on hip-hop artist and fashion king Sean Combs, better known as P Diddy, yesterday when workers rights activists alleged he has been using sweatshops in Honduras to produce his line of trendy clothing, which sells under the name Sean Jean.
Protestors, including former workers of a factory that manufactures items for the rap icon in Honduras, made their point on New York's Fifth Avenue outside a future Sean Jean shop.
"The supervisors go around every hour, every day, every second screaming at us," Lydda Eli Gonzalez, 19, a former worker, said through a translator. "The women who were there were not allowed to look at each other. You go in with black hair and come out with red hair or whatever colour shirt you are working on. You breathe this dust, you have no protection."
The case has been taken up by human rights advocacy group, the National Labor Committee, which has a long record of pursuing American apparel companies for using sweatshops in developing countries. Previous targets include The Gap, Liz Claiborne and Kathie Lee Gifford, a former TV presenter who, like Mr Combs, parlayed her fame into the clothing business.
The Sean Jean clothing line runs from expensive, full-length coats to T-shirts.
A study by the committee into conditions at one factory producing clothing for Sean Jeans in Honduras found that between 380 and 400 workers earned only 15 American cents an hour for each Sean Jean long-sleeved T-shirt they produced. They sell in the US for US$40 (£23.50).
"This is not an attack on Mr Combs. I believe he doesn't understand or doesn't know the conditions around the world in the factories that are producing his goods.
"This is an appeal to Mr Combs to do the right thing," Charles Kernighan, a committee spokesman, said. "This is a fixable problem, and if he fixes it, P Diddy can be a hero. We'll do everything we can to help him and to encourage others to support his efforts."
The committee also claims workers were forbidden to unionise and any women who became pregnant was fired.
"To get a job in the factory you have to get mandatory pregnancy tests, and if you test positive, you're fired," Mr Kernighan said. "If you enter the factory, which is surrounded by black gates and armed guards, your body is searched on the way in."
Sean Jean defended the allegations, saying it was ignorant of any abuse. "We are shocked at this information ... if there is any proof of wrongdoing we will terminate our relationship with this factory immediately," executive vice president Jeff Tweedy said. "We had no knowledge of any wrongdoing."
P Diddy may have been singled out by the committee because of his high profile in the United States. He rose to fame as Puff Daddy, making his own hip hop hits before starting his own label and nurturing new talent. He caused some consternation two years ago by ditching the name by which he was more commonly known to become P Diddy instead.
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