Fighting for worker justice in the global economy.
Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns and Initiatives
Sweatfree Union Factory Established in the Dominican Republic (July 2010)
In August 2010, college campuses across the country began giving students the chance to buy “sweatfree” collegiate apparel thanks to a major breakthrough victory in the Dominican Republic in July 2010. A unionized factory paying a living wage where workers face none of the abusive conditions typical in sweatshops across the globe is now producing apparel for the college market. The factory, owned by Knights Apparel, is therefore unique. Whether it serves as a model that will be expanded will depend in part on the success of its brand, Alta Gracia, on student campuses.
The factory has the blessing of the Worker Rights Consortium which is working closely to monitor conditions at the factory and the support of United Students Against Sweatshops, who led a campaign, joined by USLEAP and others, in support of a union at the same plant years ago when it was known as BJ&B. Congratulations to USAS and the WRC and, especially, to the union SULTRALPRO (Union of Workers of Altagracia Project) for this major breakthrough. And thanks to Knight Industries for doing the right thing.
Maquila Workers and Anti-Sweatshop Movement Win Huge Victory in Honduras (2009-2011)
Despite growing concerns about increased violence as coup leaders in Honduras press forward to hold illegitimate elections at the end of November, maquila workers in the country won a huge victory announced on November 17, 2009 when Russell Athletics agreed to open a unionized facility, rehire hundreds of workers, and respect freedom of association at all of its facilities in Honduras. The agreement was signed with the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) and came after a vigorous campaign led by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and interventions by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the Maquila Solidarity Network and other members of the anti-sweatshop movement, including USLEAP.
If fully implemented, the agreement would represent one of the most significant achievements in the struggle for worker rights in the Central American maquiladora sector since it began exporting to the North American market over twenty years ago.
Russell has long been a campaign target of USAS, and of WRC investigations, but the campaign against the company intensified after independent studies confirmed that Russell’s closing of its Honduras Jerzees plant in January 2009 was in part a reprisal against union organizing. USAS persuaded dozens of colleges and universities to cease business with Russell, a major collegiate apparel provider. Another important component of the victory was the decision by the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a body set up to monitor university codes of conduct and often criticized for being too close to the apparel industry, to place Russell “under review” in June and then extend the review in late September because the company had failed to, among other things, negotiate a resolution with the CGT union.
USLEAP played a modest support role, leading a sign-on letter with other anti-sweatshop groups in the spring that targeted Russell customers and another sign-on letter this fall that urged FLA to not let Russell off the hook and continue the review.
Update: In May, 2011, Russell and the SitraJerzeesND union signed a historic contract providing for an immeidate wage increase of 19.5% and another increase of 7% in January 2012, adding 250 workers who had not yet been rehired, and more.
Hanes Signs Contract; Workers Win Big Victory But Hanes Cuts and Runs in Central America
In a significant victory, maquila workers won a collective bargaining agreement on August 12, 2008 at a large textile manufacturing facility in the Dominican Republic owned by Hanesbrands, Inc. The workers overcame an intense anti-union campaign at the TOS Dominicana plant, documented extensively the Worker Rights Consortium whose intervention along with support from the Solidarity Center, United Students Against Sweatshops and others was vital to the union's success. The contract includes a 10% wage increase, increased funds for education and more. Click here for more information, or read the report from the Worker Rights Consortium.
In 2009, the union reports that the issues remain to be addressed. In Central America, Hanesbrands continues to be heavily criticized for several plant closings, failure to pay legally required severance, and various anti-union measures.
Last Union Factory Closed
The last unionized maquila factory in Guatemala has closed. The closing of the plantm, Choishin, was first announced in July 2008. Its sister plant Cimatextiles, also unionized, was closed in 2007. Workers at both factories won union contracts in 2003.
The Choishin union demanded a reopening of the plant but despite a Guatemalan court ruling the closing was illegal, management refused to reopen. Management also failed to provide legally-required severance and backpay to workers. In Ocobert, the Fair Labor Association issued a report that confirmed many of the union's claims but punted on others. By the time the report was issued, most workers had accepted partial severance and begun to look for other jobs. The report did prompt management to increase severance payments to the remainng workers. Most protests against the closing effecitvely ended by the end of 2008.
Key Victory in Jeopardy; Union Under Attack at Mexmode
One of the most significant victories of the anti-sweatshop movement is in jeopardy at the Mexmode (formerly Kuk Dong) factory in Mexcio due to collusion between the state government and an organization with paramilitary links. On June 17th, the Antorcha Campesina organization, linked to the PRI political party and paramilitary organizations, made another attack against the union at the factory in Atlixco, Mexico and has now illegally taken over the union with the blessing of local labor authorities.
On January 23, 2008, one of Mexico’s largest jean makers closed one of its factories where workers had recently won an independent union. Workers in Mexico’s maquila sector have once again been denied the ability to exercise their basic rights. Brands that source from the jean maker, the Navarra Group, include Gap, Levi Strauss, American Eagle, Warncaco, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Limited, and Tommy Hilfiger.
The Vaquerras Navarra factory had extended the traditional Christmas break for “lack of orders” but when workers returned from their extra, and unpaid, vacation at the end of January, management announced the factory was permanently closed, claiming insufficient business. However, other Navarra factories in the area resumed operations after the traditional break for the holidays, and several U.S. clothing brands say that their efforts to direct their orders specifically to the Vaquerras factory in order to maintain production level were rebuffed
Workers, supported by the FAT (Authentic Labor Front) and the Human and Labor Rights Commission of the Tehuacan, won a break-through election in November 2007, defeating a corrupt protection contract union. International support has been led by the Maquila Solidarity Network.
The closing, coupled with the failure of the local labor board to certify the union’s election, exhibit once again the on-going collusion between government and business forces in Mexico that have combined to successfully resist most efforts by workers to form independent unions in the country’s maquila sector.
See the Maquila Solidarity Network for more information and suggested action.
Just Garments Workers Still Need Support
Workers formerly employed by Just Garments in El Salvador are still owed back pay and severance. Just Garments was forced to close in April 2007, ending a long struggle to survive as a unionized producer for the "sweatfree" market in the U.S.
USLEAP continues to accept donations designated for the Just Garments workers. Click here for a full story of the founding of Just Garments and its valiant experiment.
- Murder and Impunity: Colombia and Guatemala
- Trade, Globalization, and the Race to the Bottom
- Flower Workers and Economic Justice
- Honduran Labor Resistance to the Coup
- Labor Rights in Mexico
- Banana Worker Justice Initiative
- Sweatshop Initiative
- Coffee Worker Justice Initiative
- Past Struggles
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!