Remarks Announcing Measures To Improve Working Conditions in the Apparel Industry and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Good morning. To Secretary Reich, Phil Knight of Nike, the other business leaders who are here, and the labor leaders, leaders of other organizations who are concerned about this issue; to Kathie Lee Gifford and Congressman George Miller, who was just here and had to leave. I want to say a special word of thanks to my friend Senator Tom Harkin, who is the very first person who ever discussed the issue we'll be talking about today with me.
Before I begin, I'd like to say just a brief word about the new job figures. It was reported this morning that our economy produced nearly 200,000 more new jobs in July, further good news for the American people that our economy is growing and creating good jobs. Thanks to the hard work of employees and businesses here in our country, we now have the economic equivalent of our dream team: strong growth, millions of jobs, low inflation, low unemployment, and growing incomes. That's the lineup we want for America.
I just had a very productive meeting with representatives of some of our Nation's largest apparel and footwear companies as well as representatives of labor, consumer, human rights, and religious groups. They all accepted my invitation to meet here today to deal with an issue that is rightly on the minds of millions of American consumers.
Just a year ago today, the discovery of more than 70 people working in virtual slavery behind barbed wire in a garment factory in El Monte, California, awakened Americans to the fact that some of the clothes and shoes they buy are manufactured by people who work under deplorable conditions. The well-documented episode involving Kathie Lee Gifford also awakened many people to this problem.
We all are outraged by these awful revelations, but as leaders we have a responsibility to do something about them. When Kathie Lee learned that some of the garments with her name on them were being produced under terrible working conditions, she didn't bury her head in the sand. Instead, she reacted quickly, decisively, and responsibly. That's what all the rest of us must do as well.
Our Nation has always stood for human dignity and the fundamental rights of working people. We believe everyone should work, but no one should have to put their lives or health in jeopardy to put food on the table for their families. That's why I am pleased to announce that the companies gathered here today have agreed to begin working together to put an end to this terrible problem.
They have agreed to do two things. First, they will take additional steps to ensure that the products they make and sell are manufactured under decent and humane working conditions. Second, they will develop options to inform consumers that the products they buy are not produced under those exploitative conditions. They have agreed to report back to me within a maximum of 6 months about their progress.
Human and labor rights are not brand names. They are the most basic products of our democracy. I want to compliment the companies that are here: Phillips-Van Heusen, L.L. Bean, Patagonia, Nicole Miller, Karen Kane, Warnaco, Tweeds, and of course, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, Liz Claiborne, and Nike, companies that have pledged to live up to their responsibilities. And I want to see the results they produce.
The ultimate test of their commitment will be for them to produce tough criteria to make sure that sweatshops are not used and to make sure consumers know it. And then what we want to do is to persuade others in this country to follow their lead and to find ways to make sure, again, that consumers know it.
I don't know what final strategies they will come up with. I do hope they'll develop measures that might include labels, clear signs in stores, or other means of getting the information directly involved to consumers so that consumers at the point of sale have an opportunity themselves to be responsible citizens in their purchases.
This is a good start. As I said before, we know that the first job of business is to produce a profit. That is the foundation of our free enterprise system. But for the system to succeed, good corporations must also be good citizens. Our success in the 21st century depends more than ever on the right kind of partnership between all of us to make America the place it ought to be and to set a standard for the entire world.
We're already working with the high-tech community to put computers in schools, with the media and entertainment industry to rate television programs. Today we are embarking on a new partnership. I hope that it will become a vital part of the battle against sweatshops here in the United States and against abusive working conditions and particularly child labor everywhere in the world.
[At this point, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich; Phil Knight, president and chief executive officer, Nike, Inc.; and television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford made brief remarks.]
Health Care Reform
Q. Mr. President, now that Kennedy-Kassebaum appears to be about to become the law of the land, I wondered if you think that is enough for health care or if there are some goals that you have should you get reelected, possibly specific programs that you would try to get through—[inaudible].
The President. Well, first of all, I'm very gratified that it is law. And I think that it's going to be the law of the land in no small measure because we have had this health care issue on the agenda now for 3 1/2 years, and, frankly, because Senator Kennedy has been fighting for it for 20 years, ever since his own son was taken ill as a young boy.
And I was talking with Senator Rockefeller, who is also one of our longtime leaders, about this this morning. As you know, I also recommended in my budget that we take steps to provide for the possibility of coverage for people who suffer long periods of unemployment and when they're in between jobs and when the insurance that they have associated with their previous jobs expires. And so I think that is the next step.
And I think what we should do—I still believe the goal that I had to have a system that provides everybody with the opportunity to have health insurance coverage, that emphasizes preventive health, that keeps inflation in health care at about the general rate of inflation—that these are good and honorable goals, and I think we're going to have to meet them in a sort of a step-by-step basis. And I think when we get Kennedy-Kassebaum in place and see how it works, the new changes may tell us what the next steps are. But I think we should begin to focus on the problems of unemployed families. And as I said, I've already tried to address this to some extent in my budget.
Q. Mr. President, when do you plan to sign——
Q. Mr. President, what can you tell us about these reports of terrorist training camps in Iran, and what, if anything, do you plan to do about it?
The President. Well, first of all, there are terrorist training camps in more than one country in the world, and we are aware of many of them in many countries. The question here is whether—who was responsible for the killing of the America servicemen in Saudi Arabia? And keep in mind, we cannot confirm—I was asked a question by a young man this morning—we cannot confirm yet what the cause of the TWA crash was, and until we can we shouldn't speculate. But we know that our servicemen in Saudi Arabia were killed by a terrorist attack. Who was responsible for that? Who supported them in that? And was any nation involved in that? These are the questions we have to ask and answer. The speculation or even the existence of actual terrorist training camps do not answer those specific questions.
And so until I'm in a position to tell the American people the answer to those questions, I think I should tell you what I have said all along. Our country has taken a tough line against terrorism. We want our allies to help us. We want to have the tools we need here at home to prevent as many attacks as possible and to punish people who carry them out. We want to make airline safety as safe as we possibly can. And that's what we're working on. And then when we find people who have done things that are wrong, we will do our best to bring them to justice, as you have seen in the successful trials and convictions in the World Trade Center bombing and the trial going on involving the Oklahoma City bombing.
Q. Mr. President, are you concerned that your Trade Representative was unable to get an agreement on insurance with Japan despite your Wednesday deadline?
The President. Well, frankly, I'm elated that we got a semiconductor agreement. That is a very, very big issue, and very important for us because of the enormous comeback American industry's had in that area. I thought we would get an insurance agreement. I still think we can. We're really not all that far away, and I think we need to keep working at it.
But I want to congratulate Ambassador Barshefsky on getting the semiconductor agreement. And I know that the people in that industry in America—there are many, many thousands of good jobs involved in this—are very happy today.
Sarah [Sarah McClendon, McClendon News Service]?
Q. Yes, sir. Aren't we doing some of this training in the use of bombs in our own Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps? And we're doing it with people who are not treated or tested for psychiatric conditions? And isn't some of this coming out from after they get out of the services and they are unhappy about things, then they create bombs? Our research shows that that's happening.
The President. Well, for one thing, it is necessary that people in our military understand fundamentals—the people in the appropriate units in the military understand the fundamentals of how bombs are made and how they can be defused and the technology of it. And of course, I think the people in the military do the best they can to make sure that the rigorous training program that people go through would sort out those who are unsuited.
It is true that some of the people who have the knowledge necessary to cause problems for us domestically, in instances of domestic terrorism, have been in the military. But I don't know that we can compellingly say that there's any higher percentage of people who are mentally unbalanced who have been in the military than in any other group. And I don't know that there's any sort of screening process that the military could adopt that would protect against that. That is something that—I think that's one of the ongoing questions they're always asking themselves whenever we have an incident not just involving a bomb, but if there's something else that a soldier does or a veteran does that may seem tied to his or her military service, they look at that. But I don't know that there's an easy answer to that.
Mara [Mara Liasson, National Public Radio]?
Q. Senator Moynihan yesterday——
Q. [Inaudible]—with this Congress—welfare reform, minimum wage, Kassebaum-Kennedy. Isn't this an argument to keep things the way they are, with you in the White House, Republicans in the majority, and Democrats in the minority of Congress?
The President. Well, first of all, it's come like pulling teeth right here before the election. And it's only come after the American people showed that they were bitterly opposed to the extremism that was the wont of the Congress. So if—the American people, of course, will have to make up their minds, but basically, what we did with the health initiative and the minimum wage were plainly Democratic initiatives, as well as the major environmental initiatives. In welfare, the two parties essentially came together finally. Otherwise, we would have had a totally unacceptable bill. So the American people can make up their minds.
I think what they've seen is that all the things that were said about the Democrats aren't true. The Democrats have turned out to be fiscally responsible, strong on defense, strong on foreign policy, strong on welfare, strong on crime, strong on management of the economy, and good for health care and education and working families.
So it seems to me that our party in Congress ought to feel good about going out and presenting an image of a modern 21st century progressive party and then let the American people make up their mind whether they agree with their philosophy or the philosophy of the other party. That's what the election will be about.
Health Care Reform Legislation
Q. Mr. President, will you sign Kennedy-Kassebaum before going on vacation?
Q. Will Republican leaders be invited to the signing ceremony?
The President. Absolutely. They always are. I don't have any uniparty signing ceremonies where there are bipartisan support.
Q. Do they not deserve some credit?
The President. Absolutely. I'm glad that they voted for it. They absolutely do. Anybody who supported any of these measures deserves credit for it. I was just answering Mara's question in the other context. They absolutely do, and I applaud them for doing it. I'm tickled pink that they did it.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:22 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Announcing Measures To Improve Working Conditions in the Apparel Industry and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223324