(en) 100 Garment Workers poisoned in Salvadoran Sweatshop

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Fri, 14 Nov 1997 18:18:24 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Fri, 14 Nov 1997 18:04:49 -0800 (PST) To: CLR all campaigns e-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: 100 Garment Workers poisoned in Salvadoran Sweatshop

Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 clr@igc.apc.org (541) 344-5410 http://www.compugraph.com/clr Action Alert: One Hundred Garment Workers Poisoned in Salvadoran Sweatshop [Information for this alert came from the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), P.O. Box 1801, New York, NY, 10159; (212) 229-1290.] Alert: On the morning of Tuesday, November 11, in one of the most serious industrial accidents of the decade, over 100 workers at the DINDEX garment factory in El Salvador were poisoned by an as yet unknown substance within the factory. According to the Salvadoran Health Minister, Eduardo Interiano, workers (including several [pregnant women) passed out, suffered from nausea, and convulsions. A number required cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). At least three workers remain hospitalized. The rest were treated at area hospitals and released the same day. Background: Some of the workers began feeling sick as early as Friday, November 7th, but when they informed factory management, nothing was done to rectify the situation. Workers believe that the the drinking water which is stored in old paint barrels has been poisoned by some toxic chemical. The workers contacted the Red Cross, which pressured the owner to clean up the water, to no avail. The factory has been shut down while the cause of the poisoning is being investigated. Health authorities are demanding that the general working conditions be improved before DINDEX is allowed to reopen. 504 women and 54 men work at the factory, which manufactures children's clothing primarily for the domestic market. [The factory is licensed under free trade law and thus could at any time produce for export and likely has.] Public

health officials reported that the factory is overcrowded, lacks proper ventilation, and has only 10 toilets (5 for women and 5 for men) which were extremely unsanitary. A representative of the Ministry of Public Health described the working conditions as "slave- like and not fit for humans." This mass poisoning marks the third consecutive year that El Salvador's garment industry has come under the international spotlight for abusing workers. In 1995, a factory producing clothing for The Gap became the target of a US campaign that eventually established the world's first independent factory monitoring group. In 1996, a Salvadoran garment worker was called a traitor by the country's president after testifying before the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Under fire from international human rights groups, the Salvadoran garment industry has tried to improve its image. According to labor observers, most factories are now paying the legal minimum wage, avoiding child labor, ending forced overtime, and actually paying workers social security wages into the government social security fund. However, health and safety standards are frequently ignored. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) notes that the DINDEX case makes it clear that voluntary self- monitoring is not enough to protect workers Salvadoran workers. Besides the poisoning itself, DINDEX's manager had illegally withheld the workers' medical insurance premiums to the Social Security Institute, but, because of the magnitude of the incident, the workers did receive emergency treatment. There are many examples in El Salvador of garment workers who have been denied medical treatment because their employers pocketed the premiums rather than paying for the legally mandated insurance. The Salvadoran Labor Ministry must be investigated, according to what workers have reported to CISPES, for failure to inspect factories, enforce labor laws, and protect the workers under its jurisdiction. It is commonly believed in El Salvador that Ministry inspectors take bribes from factory managers, and even go so far as to supply managers with a list of union organizers to avoid hiring -- at a price. CISPES adds that reform of the Labor Ministry needs to be supplemented by an independent factory monitoring system. The pioneer Independent Monitoring Group which is already functioning at the Mandarin factory in El Salvador should be extended to the rest of the country. Finally, CISPES states, independent monitoring needs to be adopted worldwide in order to prevent more tragedies like the DINDEX poisoning and the May 10, 1993 fire in a Thai toy factory that killed 188 women and injured over 400. Whether producing for a domestic market, or for export, basic human rights must be respected. The Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP), a presidential task force with representatives from industry, labor and consumer and human rights groups, is now finishing work on a global anti-sweatshop code. It must include truly independent monitoring carried out by local human rights, labor and religious groups, following the successful model in El Salvador. 1. Call or fax the Salvadoran Labor Ministry. Ask for a full investigation of violations of labor, health and safety standards at the DINDEX factory. Insist that the Ministry enforce the laws and ensure that an incident like this one is never repeated. Mr. Eduardo Tomasino, Minister of Labor Ministry of Labor San Salvador, El Salvador Tel. 011 (503) 263-5438 or 5655 Fax: 011 (503) 263-5272 2. Fax the Apparel Industry Partnership. Tell members about this gross violation of garment workers' human rights. Tell them that their global anti-sweatshop code must include truly independent monitoring carried out by local human rights, labor and religious groups, following the successful model in the Mandarin factory in El Salvador. The following is a draft letter to the garment industry's leading representative in the Apparel Industry partnership (also known as the White House Task Force to End Sweatshop Abuses). Roberta Karp, from the Liz Claiborne corporation, is co-chair of the AIP. Liz Claiborne is an upscale retailer with contracts in El Salvador (though not with DINDEX), a "good causes" foundation, and an image of trying to do the right thing. CISPES asks you to adapt this letter using your own words, making it stronger or bringing up specific issues if you wish. See the alert for more information you may want to add such as cheating workers out of their medical insurance, etc. Ms. Roberta Karp Co-Chair of the White House Apparel Industry Partnership c/o Liz Claiborne, Inc. Fax. (201) 295-7803 Dear Ms. Karp: I am writing you about the recent poisoning of some 100 workers in a Salvadoran garment factory which, I think, has implications for the work of the Apparel Industry Partnership. As you may know, on November 11 about one-sixth of the workers at the DINDEX factory in San Salvador, including a number of pregnant women, started experiencing nausea, dizziness, and convulsions. Several passed out, stopped breathing and required CPR. An official from the Ministry of Public Health who visited the factory described conditions there as "slave-like and not fit for humans." Workers at the plant started feeling ill several days before the 11th, but when they informed management, nothing was done. The DINDEX workers were sewing children's clothing primarily for the Salvadoran market. However, global standards for the garment industry have a tremendous impact on workplace conditions, regardless of

whether the goods are manufactured for export or for a domestic market. The Apparel Industry Partnership's proposed Workplace Code of Conduct must raise the global standards in order to ensure that industrial accidents such as this never occur again. A union would give workers the power to get action when they first felt ill. Your proposed Code recognizes the right to form a union and bargain collectively. So does the Salvadoran labor code, but that right is not enforced. I would like to know what the Apparel Industry Partnership is going to do to ensure that the existing laws, as well as the proposed Code, are strictly respected in practice. The proposed Code also calls for "independent external monitors," but that does not go far enough. Factory monitors must be people whom workers trust -- local religious, labor, or human rights groups with a track record in countries like El Salvador, where there is a long history of repression and fear. It is not enough to call for consultation with such people. They should BE the monitors, with the power to take their reports to the top. The Code must include this basic point. The mass poisoning at DINDEX was a violation not only of basic labor rights, but also threatened their basic human right of life. How many workers around the world must die before there is a global code that will protect them? Sincerely, Your name For more information, contact the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), P.O. Box 1801, New York, NY, 10159; (212) 229-1290; e-mail: <cispesnatl@igc.org> CAMPAIGN FOR LABOR RIGHTS newsletter subscriptions: Send $35.00 to 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. For a sample copy, send your postal address to <clr@igc.apc.org>. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- To receive our email Labor Alerts, send a message to <clr@igc.apc.org> with "labor alerts -- all campaigns" in the subject line or specify which labor issues interest you: Nike, Disney, Guess, child labor, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, US farm workers, US poultry processing workers. If you would like to receive information which falls outside those categories (prison labor, workfare, other policy issues, additional briefing material on some campaigns), indicate that you want to be on our Additional Labor Information list AS WELL AS our All Campaigns list. To stop receiving this service, check to see whether you have received our alerts directly from us or as a reposting via some other list. Send an email message to the address listed in the "return path" saying that you want to unsubscribe. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- IF YOU EXPERIENCE A BREAK IN OUR LABOR ALERT SERVICE, send us an email verifying that you still want to receive our alerts and indicating which lists (see above) you want to be on. For various technical reasons, many email messages are "bounced back." Our largest lists are now on an automated system which drops any address which malfunctions, even if because of a temporary problem with your email server. Although our alert system is becoming automated, YOU CAN STILL COMMUNICATE WITH A REAL PERSON at Campaign for Labor Rights. Send your messages to <clr@igc.apc.org>.

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