Student anti-sweatshop activists are ratcheting up their pressure on actor Jennifer Love Hewitt for her celebrity endorsement arrangement with underwear maker Hanesbrands, which stands accused of exploitative labor practices.
Since last year, groups including United Students Against Sweatshops and the Worker Rights Consortium have pushed for Hewitt to take a stand against the alleged unfair and abusive labor practices by Hanesbrands managers at its factory in the Dominican Republic. In response, they contacted Hanesbrands, and "were advised. . . that the claims of the student unions were unwarranted, without merit and were being resolved" by talking with the Dominican workers, according to Hewitt's lawyer, Robert Wallerstein.
Now USAS, whose members are college and university students, has posted a website attacking the star of CBS' "Ghost Whisperer," www.JenniferLovesSweatshops.com. WRC, which has also pushed for Hewitt to take action, denies any involvement in the site.
"We respect your accomplished career as an actor," USAS says to Hewitt in an open letter posted on the site's home page. "As a spokesperson for Hanes, however, you are selling products made in unsafe factories overseas where women are abused." The group calls on Hewitt to "stop selling Hanes sweatshop underwear."
Hewitt has appeared in print and television ads for Hanes since 2005. "Jennifer Love thinks they're perfect," reads the copy to one print ad.
USAS spokesman Zack Knorr cited Hewitt's "strong stance" last year on the media's portrayal of the female body, prompted by paparazzi photos of her in a bikini. "It would be great if she would do the same thing in this case."
"A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be," Hewitt wrote in her blog at the time. "To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini – put it on and stay strong."
One of the shots graced the cover of People magazine with the headline, "Stop Calling Me Fat!" On its site, USAS paired it with a cover for a fake "Worker" magazine showing a woman with a drawn face and the headline, "Stop Starving Me!" A footnote explains the quote is not attributable to an actual Hanes worker and the photo is not of a Hanes employee.
Hewitt's lawyer decried USAS' actions. "The website which is the basis of your article is clearly intended to damage my client's reputation by misrepresenting the truth," Wallerstein wrote in an email to ABC News. "We trust that your article will not distort Ms. Hewitt's involvement in this matter."
"Ms. Hewitt is not an employee of Hanes nor can she prevent Hanes from running commercials Hanes owns," Wallerstein said. "Ms. Hewitt of course supports the rights of all workers to have safe working conditions, fair wages, and reasonable work hours."
To justify its campaign against the company and Hewitt, USAS cites a June 2007 investigation by the Washington, D.C.-based Workers Rights Consortium which said it found, among other issues, that Hanesbrands managers at its Dominican plant pressured employees to sign contracts which stripped them of health care and life insurance they previously had. USAS says the company has also proposed a three-year wage freeze for the plant's workers. The company and WRC estimate the average wage of a worker at Hanes' Dominican factory at between $1 and $1.50 an hour.