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Otto Reich, WRAP Star | The Nation

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Otto Reich, WRAP Star

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Otto Reich is the vice chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production or WRAP, a clothing-industry front founded about a year ago to undermine the growing antisweatshop movement. Reich joined WRAP at its inception, associating himself with an operation that connects some of the unsavory elements of the cold war with a new, PR-driven approach to sustaining nonunion sweatshop production.

About the Author

Alec Dubro
Alec Dubro, veteran journalist and union activist, is the media director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the...

WRAP, the creation of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, purports to be a global network that monitors labor conditions in garment factories around the world. According to AAFA chairman William Compton, speaking at the International Apparel Federation Conference, "The best way to achieve [better working conditions in factories] is through our commitment to a comprehensive and independent factory certification program like WRAP."

However, WRAP is widely viewed by antisweatshop groups as little more than a distracting public relations effort, neither comprehensive nor independent. According to Terry Collingsworth, attorney with the Washington-based International Labor Rights Fund, a major force behind child labor and sweatshop monitoring, WRAP was "set up as an industry-dominated project to avoid outside legitimate monitoring. In short, it's a dodge and is so regarded by everyone except the industry."

According to one garment union official, WRAP does not represent the entire industry. Its membership consists largely of low-cost US manufacturers with overseas manufacturing operations, including such industry giants as St. Louis-based Kellwood; Sara Lee; the Chicago-based owner of Hanes, L'eggs and other brands; and VF, formerly Vanity Fair, a North Carolina-headquartered multinational.

According to an April 2000 report by the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network, the WRAP program has a number of glaring deficiencies:

§ Its board is dominated by industry representatives.

§ It has no provision for public disclosure of any problems found in factories, or even where the factories are located.

§ Its labor code is similar to antiunion right-to-work legislation in some US states.

§ It only encourages manufacturers to apply self-imposed "environmentally conscious" practices.

In short, says the Network, "If WRAP certification becomes widespread, the possible appearance of [its] sweat-free labels on clothing could undermine any attempts to get other more stringent standards adopted."

Exactly why Otto Reich is serving as WRAP's vice chairman isn't too clear. He has no background in either the apparel industry or promoting worker rights. What he does have, however, is a connection to WRAP's peculiar leadership. WRAP's chairman, Joaquin "Jack" Otero, former AFL-CIO executive council member, was a leading light in the 1990 Labor Committee for a Free Cuba, which received US government funding through the AFL's American Institute for Free Labor Development. AIFLD was one of the AFL-CIO's cold war overseas institutes, set up to fight communism by fighting communist-influenced unions around the world. It had close connections to the CIA and was funded by the US government--mostly through USAID--and during the 1980s and 1990s it also received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy. AIFLD was headed by William Doherty Jr. His son, Lawrence, who also worked for AIFLD, is now the executive director of WRAP. Lawrence describes himself as a former "labor guy," although what labor work he did other than run AIFLD programs in Latin America is not on his bio.

According to a statement by the International Labor Rights Fund's Collingsworth, "Doherty oversaw AIFLD's operations and was best known for finding allies in the countries of the Americas and providing them with funds to create and sustain national trade union organizations aligned with the respective country's right-wing political party. The long-lasting effect of Doherty's reign at AIFLD was to force the labor movement in most countries of the Americas to divide along ideological lines, siding either with the leftist parties or the right-wing union created and sustained by AIFLD... To this day, the effects of this divisiveness are still apparent. Another Doherty legacy is that he placed many of his children and in-laws in positions at the various AFL-CIO institutes, and some of them remain there today."

AIFLD has been disbanded by the current AFL-CIO leadership, largely because of its compromised cold war mission. Otero, for instance, was identified by renegade CIA agent Philip Agee as a onetime CIA operative. And the Doherty family is also linked to the agency. William Doherty Sr., grandfather of WRAP director Lawrence, was a early labor leader associated with the CIA in the 1940s. And Bill worked with the CIA in Latin America. Reich, too, worked with the CIA on Central American during his tenure at OPD.

But what can a professional anticommunist do these days other than denounce Cuba? Apparently, there's prosweatshop work, where the three adventurers now find themselves. If there's an any more precise explanation for Reich in the rag trade, he's keeping it to himself. Actually he's keeping everything to himself these days-he's not speaking to the press.

Perhaps WRAP is no more than a corporate PR effort, but if that's so, why is it staffed with cold war relics like Otero, Doherty and Reich? And, if the former "labor guys" are running WRAP, why do they espouse an essentially unionbusting line? There may be as much ideology here as profiteering, but we don't yet know.

In any case, Otto Reich shows that he is indeed not merely focused on preserving the Cuba boycott. He is willing to link himself with other retrograde causes, including an implicitly antilabor, antienvironment, prosweatshop organization. Just the man we need to run US hemisphere policy.

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