Kathie Lee Gifford must have a short memory. On Wednesday’s episode of her podcast, Kathie Lee & Company, the NBC personality kvetched with guest Al Roker, with whom she’d co-anchored Today’s Oscar coverage. about the difficulty of navigating the Oscar red carpet with various cameramen and producers in tow. “I thought we’d done away with that sort of treatment of other human beings,” she quipped. “I thought sweatshops were a thing of the past…There we were in a two-by-two feet thing with five of us. Five of us!”
Roker, ever diplomatic, responded with “Welcome to Hollywood!” The conversation could have taken a decidedly different turn, however. In 1996, Gifford was pilloried after labor activists revealed that her clothing line with Walmart was being made by 13- and 14-year-olds working 20-hour days in factories in Honduras.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights credits the “Kathie Lee” debacle for jump-starting the anti-sweatshop movement in the U.S.
In fact, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights credits the “Kathie Lee” debacle for jump-starting the anti-sweatshop movement in the United States.
Gifford famously wailed about the predicament on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, alternating between denial (“I didn’t know. I’m not responsible), fury (“You can say I’m ugly, you can say I’m not talented, but when you say that I don’t care about children … How dare you?”), and grudging acceptance (“This is an issue that just doesn’t go away because sweatshops, unfortunately, haven’t gone away”). Despite hoisting up the picket sign for justice shortly afterward, speaking at the Clinton White House, among other places, her promises have failed to amount to much.
Of course you could protest that it was only a joke, but even if it were, it’s a ridiculously tone-deaf one. No, Kathie Lee, sweatshops are not a thing of the past. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children suffer verbal, physical, and sexual abuse every day while they toil relentlessly under inhumane conditions—and for next to nothing—to clothe us. The last thing they deserve is to be some overprivileged white lady’s punchline.