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Late-night comedians have been getting a lot of laughs lately over news that entertainer Kathy Lee Gifford's line of clothing at Walmart has been manufactured by child labor in Honduras.

But it is hardly a laughing matter. So-called "sweatshops" keep children as young as 6 working under inhumane conditions for wages that barely qualify as a step above slavery. Young female workers endure sexual harassment from their bosses, cruel punishment for misbehavior, and are often forced to work 13-hour days with only two bathroom breaks.Now a human rights advocacy group has accused three other prominent clothing stores - Eddie Bauer, J. Crew and Kmart - of selling clothes made at these shops. The problem warrants attention. Either clothing retailers should begin certifying that items were not made with child labor or Congress should step in and demand it.

Sweatshops exist because of a twisted view of the free-enterprise system. Americans want low-priced clothing, and child labor is the least expensive labor source. But free enterprise works only when tempered by a sense of moral responsibility.

Where human rights and the rule of law are concerned, Americans have held their nation aloft as a moral lamp post for the world. But that image grows considerably dimmer if parents can't be assured the clothes they buy for their children weren't sewn by other children in shackles.

It's time Americans felt a sense of outrage over this exploitation. Several members of Congress already have suggested companies voluntarily label clothes made by legitimate manufacturers. Others have introduced a bill that would refuse foreign aid to countries that allow child labor.

Major retailers ought to take the hint and stand up for decency.