Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hermosa Factory - El Salvador



Worker Rights Violations at the Hermosa Factory in El Salvador

In April, 2005, workers at the Hermosa Factory in El Salvador began to organize a union. They were producing for a number of collegiate apparel brands including Reebok, Adidas, Russell Athletics, and Team Edition Apparel. In a classic act of union busting, management shut down the factory in May. Despite worker protests, some of the machinery in the factory was removed. Workers are owed social security, pension, and back pay.

Workers picketed outside the factory for more than 3 months until, at the end of August, management reached an agreement with a company union. (In August, management also opened another factory nearby, that produces for all the same brands.) Managers, officials from this corrupt union and a business sector union-busting "foundation" have been openly threatening, verbally harassing, and even physically assaulting workers. Workers pressed on, however, and on November 9, 2005, factory owner Joaquin Salvador Montalvo was arrested. He owes workers US$19,000 just in overtime, vacation pay and benefits, and he owes them $353,000 in social security and pension quotas.

While Montalvo is out on bail, the workers struggle continues. They are demanding that the company:

  • Reopen the factory
  • Reinstate all workers with back pay
  • Sign a neutrality agreement and recognize the workers' independent union

At the time of the closure, the factory was producing for Russell Athletic and had recently produced for Adidas and other brands - all member corporations of the FLA. The stated goal of the brands was to arrange for the Hermosa factory and its machinery to be sold, with the profits going to the workers. However, the banks have first claim to the money generated by the sale of the factory. Given this reality, workers have appealed to the brands for help. But the brands have outright refused to pay any of the money owed to these workers themselves – despite the fact that the brands profited from the labor of these workers in producing their products while the violations were occurring and despite the fact that the brands’ monitoring programs failed to detect the violations over a period of years.

The story of Hermosa is a good illustration of how the system is broken: Nonpayment of worker benefits and the failure to set aside money for severance are among the easiest violations of all to find; all you have to do is ask the factory for the relevant documentation. But year after year, the brands' monitoring programs failed to notice these abuses – and now workers are paying the price and the brands are denying responsibility.

Unless a system of real accountability and commitment to workers and factories is established – through implementation of the Designated Supplier Program – we will continue to see case after case of brands failing to take responsibility for the abuse of workers who are sewing our universities’ garments.

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