(en) Nicaragua sweatshop alert!

Shawn Ewald (shawn@wilshire.net)
Wed, 3 Dec 1997 09:14:15 -0700

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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 17:21:12 -0800 (PST) To: CLR All Campaigns e-mail list <clr@igc.org> From: Mike Rhodes <clr2@igc.apc.org> Subject: Nicaragua sweatshop alert!


To receive our e-mail labor alerts, send a message to CLR@igc.apc.org Phone: (541) 344-5410 Web Site: http://www.compugraph.com/clr Become a member and receive our (hard copy) newsletter. Send $35.00 to Campaign for Labor Rights, 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. Sample newsletter available on request; include your postal address. ******************************************* ACTION REQUEST NEAR END OF ALERT: letters to Wal-Mart, Kmart and J.C. Penney ******************************************* "Hard Copy" Exposes Nicaraguan Sweatshops SUMMARY: The plight of the Nicaraguans who work in the factories of the Free Trade Zone in Managua was brought to the attention of the U.S. public in November when the US television program "Hard Copy" aired a three- part report about the Free Trade Zone that exposed the poor working conditions, starvation-level salaries and use of under-age labor in those factories. Now, letters are needed to the chief executive officers of Wal-Mart, Kmart and J.C. Penney, all of which have contracts in Nicaragua's Free Trade Zone, asking them not to leave Nicaragua but rather to remain, work to clean up the factories and guarantee respect for human and worker rights. BACKGROUND: The Free Trade Zone in Nicaragua was first set up by the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970's. It was converted to national production during the Sandinista revolution but when the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections, the government of Violeta Chamorro opened the zone once more to mostly foreign companies which pay no taxes while assembling products for export. Exports from the Free Trade Zone have grown from $2.9 million in 1992 to an estimated $250 million for 1997. However, average monthly earnings of workers have dropped in the same period from $50.00 to $25.50. The present administration of right- wing Liberal Alliance president Arnoldo Aleman has promised to increase foreign investment in the export assembly sector. According to Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee (NLC), who was featured on the programs, sweatshop owners take advantage of Nicaragua's high unemployment rate to pay miserable wages to workers. The "Hard Copy" programs included testimonies from workers in which they spoke of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse by floor supervisors in factories that produce for Wal- Mart, K-Mart, and JC Penny. At a press conference before the first "Hard Copy" program, the NLC distributed documentation showing the low salaries of the workers. For example, the Chentex factory is one of the largest contractors in the zone and the site of production for several major U.S. companies including Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Kmart and others. One Chentex worker's pay slip indicated that she earned 299.04 cordobas for 14 days of work. At 9.8 cordobas to the U.S. dollar, this comes to $30.51 for the two week period or $2.18 per day. The workday is 9 hours and 15 minutes, which means that the worker earned 22 cents an hour. She also worked seven hours of overtime which increased her wage to 340 cordobas, which is $34.69 for the 14 day period and brings her fully-loaded wage to 24 cents an hour. Another worker, at the Barons International factory, earned a base wage of only 10 cents an hour and a fully-loaded wage including overtime, of only 14 cents an hour. At Istmo Textil, one worker's pay stub reflected a base wage of 10 cents an hour and total earnings of $13.78 for a 67 hour work week bringing her wage to less than 21 cents an hour. Copies of all of these pay stubs are available upon request from the NLC (212-242-3002). The program made headlines in all Nicaraguan newspapers and caused an uproar in the Free Trade Zone Corporation, the government entity charged with overseeing the zone and bringing new investment to the country. Corporation head Gilberto Wong said the TV reports were totally inaccurate. Minister of Labor Wilfredo Navarro made an announced visit to the zone to inspect conditions himself, and, to the surprise of no one, found everything in order, and claimed that child labor is not used in the factories. However, Pedro Ortega, head of the Federation of Textile and Garment Workers of the Sandinista Workers Central (CST), charged that the sexual harassment and exploitative practices that many workers must endure are carried out with the complicity of the Ministry of Labor. He also accused some of the companies in the zone of raising the quota of pieces each worker must complete in a day without any corresponding salary increase. A Nicaraguan newspaper stated that the "Hard Copy" report has led to the suspension of a $17 million project that would have created 2,300 new jobs. Gilberto Wong said that he received a call from the investors from the Taiwanese Chi-Hsing group after the airing of the "Hard Copy" report, informing him that they have decided to suspend the project. Wong also said that the giant U.S. retailer, Wal-Mart, was withdrawing its contracts from Nicaragua but, in a conversation with the Nicaragua Network, Betsey Reithmeyer of the Corporate Affairs Office of Wal- Mart stated in the strongest terms that Wal-Mart was not pulling out of Nicaragua. Reithmeyer also stated that Wal-Mart's contractors paid the minimum wage in Nicaragua, which was raised recently to 25 cents per hour. But this is still not enough for the basic needs of even one person, let alone a family. Nine workers have been fired since the programs aired; four of the workers are among those who spoke on camera about wages and conditions in the factories. The others had been involved in union organizing efforts. A worker died in the Free Trade Zone in the middle of the controversy, electrocuted by a piece of machinery that workers had reported was malfunctioning but which was not repaired. Pedro Ortega reported that 130 workers at the U.S.-owned Jem III Factory have organized a union and have registered with Ministry of Labor. Workers at the Rocedes Factory, also U.S.-owned, will be setting up their union in the coming days. The Nicaraguan National Assembly's Labor Committee sent a delegation to visit the Zone, requesting permission to inspect four factories. They were denied entrance to Rocedes, a U.S.-owned factory mentioned in the Hard Copy report. The Sandinista bench in the National Assembly released a statement stating that while the nation needed foreign investment, investors had to respect the rights of workers as laid out in the Nicaraguan constitution and labor code. On November 30, the first Central America Free Trade Zone Seminar was held in Managua. It was organized by the Sandinista Workers Central (CST) and attended by representatives of workers from Central America and the Caribbean. Officials from the Nicaraguan Labor Ministry and Free Trade Zone Corporation gave presentations at the meeting but did not remain long enough to dialogue with workers. Sandinista trade unionists stated that while the free trade zones are an economic necessity in Nicaragua, it is also necessary that a type of tri- partite collaboration take place between the government, employers and unions with the door open to the legislature and to human rights organizations. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) has taken out quarter-page ads in the daily newspapers criticizing the sensationalistic tone of the "Hard Copy" report and "categorically denying" the report's claims of inhumane working conditions. It appears, however, that the right-wing is not united behind these claims. A number of Liberal deputies with roots in non-Sandinista unions have accused the Minister of Labor of being in cahoots with the owners of the factories in the Zone. While Catholic Monsignor Eddy Montenegro argued that the Zone is "an important source of employment," he reminded the government that "dignity of the workers must be maintained" and urged a more in-depth study of working conditions. URGENT ACTION NEEDED: Please write to the chief executive officers of Wal-Mart, Kmart and J.C. Penney at the following addresses. A sample letter follows: Mr. David Glass, CEO Wal-Mart Home Office 702 SW 8th Street Bentonville, AR 72716 Fax: (501)273-4894 Mr. James E. Oestereicher, CEO J.C. Penney P.O. Box 10001 Dallas, TX 75024 Fax: (972) 431-9518 Mr. Floyd Hall, CEO Kmart Corporation 3100 West Big Beaver Troy, MI 48084 Fax: (248) 614-1970 Dear Mr. _______________: I am very disturbed by the revelations on the TV program "Hard Copy" of violations of worker rights in factories in Nicaragua sewing garments for your company. I urge you to take the lead in setting a new corporate ethic. Do not pull out of Nicaragua. Instead, demand that your contractors work to guarantee respect for Nicaraguan workers' rights. The workers fired for appearing on television should be reinstated--along with those targeted in the recent wave of firings of suspected union supporters. Your corporate code of conduct should be translated, posted in each factory which sews for your company and explained and distributed to workers. If you believe in human rights, your contractors' factories should be open to true independent monitoring by respected local human rights and religious organizations whom the workers trust. Your company should also immediately join the White House Task Force to Eliminate Sweatshop Abuses. I am anxious to know what concrete steps you are taking, so that I can alert members of my family and community. Sincerely,

______________________ (end of sample letter) For more information, contact: Nicaragua Network, 1247 "E" Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003; (202) 544-9355; e-mail: <nicanet@igc.org> Witness for Peace, 110 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 304, Washington, DC 20002; e-mail: <witness@w4peace.org> Order the publication "Sewing Justice: U.S. Solidarity & the Workers' Struggle in Nicaragua's Maquilas." (202) 544-0781 National Labor Committee, 275 Seventh Ave., 15th Fl. New York, NY 10001; (212) 242-3002; Web site: www.nlcnet.org Order a videotape copy of the "Hard Copy" program and a packet full of information on Hard Copy and NLC's findings in Nicaragua.

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