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Britney Spears T-Shirts Caught in Crosshairs of Federal Investigation Into Merch Company

Investigating "exploitative working conditions," the Department of Labor put a hold on a shipment of goods including Britney Spears T-shirts headed to Target.

A San Diego merchandise company that printed T-shirts for Britney Spears, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and other music stars violated federal labor laws when it skimped on employees overtime pay, according to investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In a statement Monday (May 9), the federal agency’s Wage and Hour Division said an investigation revealed that King Graphics – a San Diego shop that produces silk-screen T-shirts and other merchandise – had failed to pay proper overtime to more than 70 of its employees.

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To resolve those accusations, the DOL said King Graphics agreed to pay nearly $270,000 in backpay and damages to workers affected, plus another $10,000 in civil penalties.

“Celebrities, retailers and manufacturers profit from T-shirts sold for $40 or more, while the low-wage workers who produce the merchandise work overtime to meet consumer demand and become victims of wage theft,” division head Jessica Looman said. “The Wage and Hour Division will continue to hold employers accountable and use every available tool to ensure that workers are paid in compliance with the law.”

The company also helped create merchandise for Willie Nelson and Ariana Grande, investigators said.

In technical terms, the DOL accused King Graphics of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal statute requiring that hourly workers be paid time-and-a-half for any work beyond the standard 40-hour work week.

During the investigation, DOL investigators say they succeeded in getting the company to put a hold on a shipment of “hot goods” – a legal term used for products potentially created via illegal working conditions. That order? A truckload of Britney Spears’ T-shirts headed to Target, as well as other products headed to Hot Topic, Kohl’s, Urban Outfitters and others.

The agency said it also investigated other companies that received or distributed products created by King Graphics, including Sony Music Entertainment. The DOL said those companies had cooperated and would “perform due diligence to avoid future violations.”

“A manufacturer or retailer must ensure their supply chain is free of ‘hot goods’… or risk legal liability,” the agency said. “All parties, from the entertainers to the distributors and wholesalers, should ensure their profits aren’t supported by workers in sweatshops, many of whom are immigrant women supporting families.”

The agreement announced Monday will also resolve a separate class action filed by the employees themselves. Under the deal, King Graphics also agreed to “hire an independent third-party to monitor future FLSA compliance,” the DOL said.

A representative for King Graphics did not immediately return a request for comment.