With international support, maquila workers in February, 2005 won reinstatement of fired union leaders in Nicaragua while in Haiti a resolution was reached to begin reinstatement of fired workers and contract negotiations. The closing of the largest unionized apparel plant in the region was avoided in the Dominican Republic in December but in Guatemala workers have failed to secure respect for their union and are launching an international campaign demanding that retailers suspend business with the manufacturer.
Nobland in Guatemala
Relations between management and the union reached a new low at the Nobland Guatemala plant when local manager Yong Ha Kim struck union leader Rosa Lopez, according to charges filed with the Guatemalan Public Ministry. Coupled with stalled negotiations and a refusal to stop supporting an anti-union group of workers who have been intimidating union members, the union has determined that not enough pressure has been applied to the company, Nobland International. The union has therefore taken the position that clients should suspend business with Nobland, not only in Guatemala but globally.
This is a drastic step that could lead to a closing of the factory but the union, which is affiliated to FESTRAS, the Guatemalan labor federation that emerged out of the historic Coca-Cola struggle, has experienced an 18-month anti-union campaign that shows no sign of ceasing.
The Guatemalan government has also consistently failed to investigate complaints of intimidation, including death threats, made by current and past Nobland personnel and management-affiliated workers, helping perpetuate a climate of fear.
The current major client in Guatemala is Target. JC Penney has also used the factory, as did Gap earlier. USLEAP has been engaged with all three brands over the past year, each of which has intervened with Nobland management but without satisfactory results. Nobland's other international clients include Liz Claiborne and DKNY.
Contact Target and JC Penney. Urge them to suspend business with Nobland International until worker rights are respected at its Guatemalan plant and a resolution is negotiated with the union.
Bob Ulrich, Chief Executive Officer, Target Corporation,
1000 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55403; Tel: 612 304-6073, Fax: 612 307-8870.
Myron E. Ullman, Chairman of the Board and CEO, J.C. Penney Company, Inc.
6501 Legacy Drive, Plano, Texas 75024; (972) 431-1000. Fax: 972-431-1944.
Nicotex in Nicaragua
On February 14, 2005, management at the Nicotex factory in Nicaragua reinstated three union leaders who had been fired in November. Nicotex also agreed to provide back pay and benefits and to respect the union in the future. Nicotex produces solely for Gildan Activewear, a Canadian-based company that has most recently been the target of a student-led campaign over a plant closing in Honduras and a longer-term campaign by the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network to improve workplace practices.
Gildan intervened aggressively and rapidly in the Nicotex case, and was encouraged to do so in part by a grassroots campaign led by Nicaragua Network and the Campaign for Labor Rights. In late January, the Workers Rights Consortium announced an agreement with regard to the Honduran plant closing, that includes back pay, public acknowledgment of anti-union firings, and hiring back fired workers at other nearby plants. See www.workersrights.org for further information on the settlement.
Grupo M in Haiti
In early February, the SOKOWA union in Haiti announced it had achieved critical gains in their struggle with Grupo M, a major manufacturer based in the Dominican Republic that set up a factory in the CODEVI free trade zone. Supported by the Haitian non-profit organization Batay Ouvriye, the campaign drew the support of the AFL-CIO, the Worker Rights Consortium, USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) and others, including USLEAP.
The campaign focused not only on Grupo M but also Levi's and the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank that had provided Grupo M a loan conditioned on respecting worker rights. According to the agreement, the company agreed to immediately reinstate fired union leaders, to progressively reinstate 150 other dismissed workers, and to sign a collective bargaining agreement within 6 months.
BJ&B in the Dominican Republic
In December, cap manufacturer BJ&B reached agreement with its union on a new two-year contract. Last fall, the union reported contract violations and a significant drop in employment, prompting fears of a plant closing. The BJ&B union won its contract in 2002 after a student-led campaign by USAS.
Just Garments in El Salvador
The only maquila factory in El Salvador with a democratic union continues to seek additional orders and support. Individuals can purchase Just Garments khaki pants at www.nosweatapparel.com under "Business and Casual" and T-Shirts at www.crispaz.org.
A conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan in April will be followed by a SweatFree Communities conference in Denver in May in which anti-sweatshop activists, trade unionists, and others will explore how to develop and link the demand for "sweatfree" goods to producers like Just Garments. See www.behindthelabel.org/campaigns/sfc for information about the Denver conference and background about SweatFree Communities.
Just Garment Background