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Disney says it was out of Burma by

Subject: Disney says it was out of Burma by last June

      By Grant McCool 

    NEW YORK (Reuter) - Mickey Mouse, who has delighted youngsters for
decades, is now facing tough questions from children over alleged abuses of
workers who make Disney clothes and toys. 

    Although the Walt Disney Co. said the charges were either unsubstantiated
or dated, a labor rights group was starting a week-long campaign Saturday to
highlight Disney business in countries with questionable human rights

    The New York-based National Labor Committee (NLC) said it planned
picketing, marches, leaflet distribution and protests at Disney stores in
several major U.S. and Canadian cities until Dec. 14. The so-called ``Disney
Week of International Action'' was scheduled for a time of year when the
company's popular products are much in demand as gifts. 

    The group also scheduled screenings of a documentary film it had
commissioned called ``Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti'' about the life of poor
workers in the troubled Caribbean nation. 

    Disney, in a written response Friday to questions about alleged abuses in
Haiti and Burma and children's letters, said its policies were being followed
in Haiti and the only subcontractor in Burma had stopped placing orders there
last June. 

    An 11-year-old girl wrote Disney CEO Michael Eisner from her school in a
middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City, after her class read an
article in ``Time for Kids'' about child labor. 

    ``Does your company really use child labor?'' she asked. ``I hope that
the answer is no because if you do use child labor, you will lose a lot of
customers -- including myself.'' 

    The company said it was responding to such letters and provided an
example of one sent to a child Nov. 27 by communications director Chuck

    ``I want you to know that we would never permit children to work on
Disney products,'' it said in part. ``All companies that make our products
must sign a contract which says that they do not and will not use child
labor. If any factory anywhere ever tried to allow it, we would stop it right

    On Nov. 26, the Burbank, Calif. entertainment giant, which has business
interests in almost every country in the world, stood up to China and
declared that it would go ahead with next year's release of ``Kundun'', a
film about the early life of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

    In an unusual warning, Beijing -- ever-sensitive about Tibet -- had told
Disney that its ambitious business plans in China were at risk over the film,
which is being made by renowned director Martin Scorcese. 

    The Dalai Lama fled to India with many of his followers in 1959 after
years of resisting China's control of the Himalayan region. Human rights
advocates have for years condemned the communist government's policy toward
Tibet as repressive. 

    NLC executive director Charles Kernaghan alleged that wages as low as 30
cents an hour for workers at a factory in Haiti making two-piece ``101
Dalmatians'' garments forced them to live in hovels without water and made
them virtual indentured servants because they were always in debt. 

    ``Family values are left behind for films and movies but real family
values that people should be paid a living wage so people can send their kids
to school are left behind,'' he said in an interview. 

    Disney said in reply that the median wage for workers who make
Disney-licensed goods was ``well above the Haitian minimum wage''. 

    Disney is known globally for its wholesome Mickey Mouse image and child
and family-oriented theme parks. Its film ''Beauty and the Beast'' was the
first animated movie ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best
Picture. Disney's most successful film was 1994's ``The Lion King''. Its
current hit, ''101 Dalmatians'' pulled in more than $45 million last week, a
record for the Thanksgiving Day holiday period. 

    Kernaghan had asked Disney to pull out of manufacturing goods in Burma,
where the military government controls the economy and has suppressed the
political opposition. 

    Kernaghan testified to Congress earlier this year, bringing to attention
the sweatshop conditions in which clothes carrying the name of TV personality
Kathie Lee Gifford were manufactured by a Wal-Mart sub-contractor. 

    In the ensuing controversy, Gifford joined the forces working toward
improving conditions and wages and a White House panel was established to
study the issue of labor abuses in factories making goods for U.S. companies.


20:00 12-06-96