Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich sent fashion and human-rights circles bristling after he denounced child labor laws as “truly stupid” in a public appearance in November. The former Speaker of the House and GOP frontrunner called for a relaxation of child labor laws, even as workers’ rights abuses and underage exploitation persist unchecked in garment factories across the globe. “It’s tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid,” Gingrich said at an appearance at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “Saying to people you shouldn’t go to work before you’re 14, 16. You’re totally poor, you’re in a school that’s failing with a teacher that’s failing.”

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For an industry that struggles to overcome the stigma of sweatshops and human-rights violations, however, Gingrich’s words pass little muster, particularly among those who continue to push for tougher standards and stricter oversight.

“This is a particularly sensitive issue because it involves children,” Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, told WWD on Sunday. “We as an industry are sensitive to child labor and other industries are as well. We try to set an example in the U.S. for partners around the world to follow their own laws. When you have a candidate for president advocating relaxation in those laws, it calls into question the commitment. I hope the Speaker clarifies his remarks at some point.”

Gingrich also outlined a proposal to replace “unionized janitors” with a “master janitor” and several students.

Gingrich also outlined a proposal to replace “unionized janitors” with a “master janitor” and several students, a point he reiterated at a debate in Iowa on Saturday night. “I’ll stand by the idea, young people oughta learn how to work,” he said in response to fellow candidate Mitt Romney. “Middle class kids do it routinely. We should give poor kids the same chance to pursue happiness.”

Roughly 211 million children, ages 5 to 14, have jobs in countries all over the world, including the United States, according to the International Labor Organization. Of these, 120 million work full-time to support their families, often under hazardous and unmonitored conditions.

[Via WWD]