Goodwill is paying some of its disabled workers just 22 cents an hour, while the charity’s executives make six figure salaries. A labor law loophole enables the practice.
Some Pennsylvania Goodwill workers who are disabled made as little as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour in 2011, according to Labor Department documents reviewed by NBC News. That’s because a 1938 law, called the Special Wage Certificate Program, aimed at encouraging employers to hire disabled workers, allows charities and companies to get special certificates from the Department of Labor that permits them to pay disabled workers based on their abilities, with no minimum.
As some workers were making as little as 22 cents per hour in 2011, Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons made $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation. The CEOs of Goodwill franchises across the country collectively earned about $30 million, according to NBC.
Brad Turner-Little, Goodwill's director of mission strategy, told The Huffington Post that compensation of Goodwill executives and the wages earned by workers with disabilities aren't "connected." He explained that local Goodwill organizations make independent determinations about what to pay their executives based on what they need to recruit "good talent."
As for the workers with disabilities, their pay is determined through a "rigorous" review process in line with Department of Labor regulations that assess their productivity and other factors, Turner-Little said. Goodwill performs the reviews at least every six months to make sure employees are being paid properly.
"It's not a connected issue, it’s a different kind of job," Turner-Little said.
Still, the provision allows for a stark contrast between the executives' pay and that of some of their workers, an issue more commonly associated with for-profit companies than non-profit charities. S&P 500 CEOs make 204 times what their workers make on average, according to April data from Bloomberg.
In a HuffPost blog post published earlier this year, Gibbons defended the wage program, arguing that Goodwill has been “unfairly singled out” in the debate.
“While it is quite easy to look at this provision quickly and ask why people with disabilities should be paid less than other workers, the truth is the certificate allows Goodwill and many other employers to provide opportunities for people with severe disabilities who otherwise might not be a part of the workforce,” he wrote.
He added in a blog posted Friday, that “for young people with the most significant disabilities, the Special Minimum Wage Certificate means the difference between reaching their personal employment potential and having no job at all.”
Indeed, the employment rate for Americans with disabilities between 20 and 24 years-old is just 32 percent. And Goodwill's program provides workers with disabilities with more than just pay, Turner-Little said. They get services like transportation and community socialization activities.
"The wage earned is only part of the benefit of Goodwill’s use of the certificate," he said. "We welcome conversation that creates more opportunity for people with disabilities."
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Despite at first denying its involvement, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/30/benetton-factory-collapse-new-take_n_3187924.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">UK apparel brand Benetton admitted it had connections with the Bangladeshi factory</a> that collapsed in April, killing more than 400 people. In an emailed statement to The Huffington Post, Biagio Chiarolanza, CEO of Benetton Group, wrote: <blockquote>As a company, we are constantly working to strengthen the measures and initiatives already in place - our own as well as those to which we participate - in the markets in which we are present. Our objective is to contribute to a significant and lasting improvement in workers' conditions and the environment in which they operate. Regarding this, we are in contact with global non-profit organizations as well as with organizations such as the International Labour Organization, to evaluate how to support further initiatives specifically designed for Bangladesh. At the same time, this is such a tragedy that no one in the industry should feel above it. As such, Benetton will make funds available to the victims of the families as every member of our industry has a moral obligation to intervene in their support.</blockquote>
Last December, a Los Angeles garment factory associated with dozens of retailers, including Urban Outfitters, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/sweatshop-la-fashion-urban-outfitters-aldo-forever-21_n_2302493.html" target="_blank">was accused by the Department of Labor of "sweatshop-like" labor practices</a>.
Converse ceased manufacturing in the U.S. after being bought by Nike in 2003. Since then, workers at a supplier making the sneakers have claimed that supervisors abused them and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/nike-faces-new-worker-abuse-indonesia_n_896816.html" target="_blank">even threw shoes at them as they worked.</a>
Workers at a Levi suppliers' <a href="http://bigstory.ap.org/content/levis-gap-garment-workers-strike-cambodia" target="_blank">plant in Cambodia went on strike over substandard working conditions</a> in 2012.
Forever 21 was also one of the brands that was accused of using the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/sweatshop-la-fashion-urban-outfitters-aldo-forever-21_n_2302493.html" target="_blank">Los Angeles supplier</a> accused of "sweatshop-like" practices.
A Chinese supplier for the sneaker brand Keds reportedly <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=9Pascy_5HUMC&pg=PA171&lpg=PA171&dq=keds+sweatshops&source=bl&ots=o49jdh6z22&sig=gHOVGuFBM5jbTKXqM_Lwj0-EfTs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e0aAUfDKArHo0AHRpoGYCQ&ved=0CHEQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=keds%20sweatshops&f=false" target="_blank">locked workers behind 15-foot walls</a>, according to a 2000 study by the National Labor Committee entitled "Made in China."
Famous for its outdoor clothing and apparel, L.L. Bean was roundly <a href="http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/sweatshop_hall_shame_2010.pdf" target="_blank">criticized in 2010 for not boycotting cotton from Uzbekistan,</a> a nation notorious for its use of <a href="http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/21/cotton-exporters-using-child-labor/" target="_blank">child labor</a>, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.
Swedish fashion brand H&M was associated with supplier Garib & Garib Newaj, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/02/hm-factory-fire-in-bangla_n_482170.html" target="_blank">the owner of a Bangladesh factory that burned down in 2010, killing 21 people</a>.
Despite their mission to donate shoes to children in need, TOMS has been criticized for <a href="http://www.thefineprintuf.org/2011/05/01/a-closer-look-at-toms/" target="_blank">being vague about measures it's taken to uphold fair labor standards</a> in China, Ethiopia and Argentina, where it makes the majority of its products.
Pier 1 Imports
The home goods chain reportedly did business with a <a href="http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications-and-resources/sweatshop_hall_shame_2010.pdf" target="_blank">Chinese supplier that refused to allow some 200 employers</a> to organize a workers' association, according to International Labor Rights Forum.