October 28, 2003 01:00 AM

Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and his New York-based Sean John fashion line are being accused of using a sweatshop in Honduras to produce tens of thousands of shirts for the company, reports The New York Times.

An employee leading a workers’ rights group, Lydda Eli Gonzalez, 19, tells The Times that the plant’s managers mistreated workers by yelling and cursing at them, forcing them to work overtime without pay and firing them for getting pregnant. Would-be union organizers also reportedly were fired last summer.

Southeast Textiles S.A. factory owner Steve Hawkins calls Gonzalez’s allegations lies and says the factory strictly adhered to the laws and offered good working conditions, reports The Times.

“I never mistreated anybody,” Hawkins says. “I treat employees just like I’d like to be treated myself.”

Combs, 33, said in a statement that the company is looking into the charges, according to New York’s WNBC-TV News.

Jeff Tweedy, executive vice president of Sean John, tells The Times: “We have absolutely no knowledge of this situation. However, we take these matters very seriously, and we will have our director of compliance look into the matter immediately.”

Gonzalez, who said the plant’s workers earn 90 cents an hour, told The Times that she flew to New York to ask Combs to pressure Hawkins into better treatment for his workers.

The National Labor Committee sponsored her trip. This is the same New York-based group that embarrassed the Gap, Kathie Lee Gifford and other major fashion names in exposing sweatshop conditions at factories they used, The Times notes.

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