With Christmas just weeks away, a labor group on Tuesday denounced "horrific" sweatshop conditions where crucifixes are made in China to be sold at religious gift shops in the United States.

Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, held a news conference in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral to call attention to conditions at a factory in Dongguan City where the religious objects, sold in St. Patrick's gift shop, are made.

Kernaghan said the crosses were exhibited at an annual trade show organized by the Association for Christian Retail, a U.S.-based trade association that works with thousands of religious stores across the country.

"I don't think they have a clue where these crucifixes were made — in horrific work conditions," Kernaghan said.

He said the mostly young, female employees work from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. seven days a week and are paid 26 cents an hour, with no sick days or vacation. Workers live in filthy dormitories and are fed a watery "slop," he said.

Bill Anderson, president and chief executive of the Christian trade association, issued a statement saying, "While we occasionally hear this issue raised, and believe there are factories in China where human rights are violated, we believe claims that products sold through CBA member stores are made in these shops are irresponsible and unfounded."

Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for St. Patrick's, said church officials only heard about the issue after Kernaghan's news conference. "It seems this individual was trying to exploit the cathedral for publicity," Zwilling said.

However, he said St. Patrick's had removed dozens of crucifixes from its gift shop while church officials investigate the matter.

Gerald Singer, a co-owner of the company that sold the crucifixes to the church, Singer Co., said he bought the crucifixes from a Chinese manufacturer who said no sweatshop labor had been used.