A long-suppressed report by the Salvadoran government, made public
yesterday by an American labor rights group, spelled out serious problems
in the country's apparel factories, including unhealthy air and water,
large amounts of forced overtime and the frequent dismissal of workers who
supported labor unions.
The National Labor Committee made the copy available as part of a campaign
by labor unions and their Democratic allies to pressure the Bush
administration and Congress to include strong worker protections in any new
El Salvador's government originally issued the unusually critical report
last August, but withdrew it from circulation the next day, saying it was
technically flawed. On the day the report was issued, managers of the
country's duty-free, export-oriented factories, known as the maquiladoras,
Last year, El Salvador exported $1.6 billion worth of apparel to the United
States, making it the eighth- largest apparel exporter to this country.
The report found that many of the country's 229 apparel factories did not
provide basic safety equipment and threatened to fire workers unless they
agreed to work long hours of overtime. The report also faulted many
factories for setting unrealistic production quotas and for requiring many
workers to put in extra hours with no pay when they fell short of those
The report's harshest conclusion involved what it described as the
systematic violation of workers' efforts to form unions.
"It was found that there exists an anti-union policy in the maquilas, by
which any attempt at organization is repressed," said the report, prepared
by the El Salvador Labor Ministry and financed in part by the United States
Agency for International Development. "According to union leaders
interviewed, it is very common for supervisors and chiefs of personnel to
threaten workers with firings if they belong to a union or attempt to form
one," it said.
The report noted that not one of the 229 maquiladora factories had a union
contract. Many workers interviewed told Labor Ministry officials that there
was a blacklist that factory managers used to make sure that known union
supporters were not given jobs.
The report was made available just days after President Bush announced
plans to seek expedited negotiating authority in the hope of establishing
the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a duty-free trade zone from Canada to
Chile. In a speech on Monday, Mr. Bush said such a free trade area was
essential to improving living standards throughout the Western Hemisphere.
But union leaders assert that unless the treaty establishing the free trade
area includes strong labor protections, it will encourage companies to move
operations to countries with the worst wages and working conditions, thus
undermining efforts to upgrade living standards.
The El Salvador report criticized the country's factory inspectors, saying
that many workers interviewed were emphatic in declaring that there was a
great deal of corruption among inspectors.
Jorge Nieto Menndez, El Salvador's minister of labor, said the government
was seeking to train inspectors better. "We want investment, but only with
respect and fairness," he said. "Only when workers' rights are respected
can we generate more contracts with American companies."
The report describes how important the export apparel industry is for El
Salvador, growing at a 13 percent annual rate and accounting for 79,000 jobs.
Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Commission, and
several members of Congress are planning to hold a news conference today in
Washington where they will issue a report detailing problems at El Salvador
factories that make goods for many well-known companies, including Kohl's,
the Gap, Liz Claiborne and Nike. That report found that many apparel
workers face mandatory pregnancy tests, work 80-hour weeks and have to
work in temperatures of more than 90 degrees.
The Labor Ministry report found that many workers complained about
inadequate wages. According to the report, many workers said that despite
the many hours of overtime they worked, "the wage was insufficient to
satisfy their family needs with dignity."
Factory managers told the labor ministry that an important reason that
employees have to work so much overtime is that, in their view, the workers
deliberately delay production to force the company to continue operations
beyond the normal shift, thus allowing the workers to receive overtime pay.
- 104 Globalization
- 110 Trade Justice