- A previous article addressed global sweatshop wage slavery,
accessed through the following link:
- Definition of a Sweatshop
- The term has been around since the 19th century.
- Definitions vary but essentially refer to workplaces
where employees work for poor pay, few or no benefits, in unsafe, unfavorable,
harsh, and/or hazardous environments, are treated inhumanely by employers,
and are prevented from organizing for redress.
- The term itself refers to the technique of "sweating"
the maximum profit from each worker, a practice that thrived in the late
- Webster calls them "A shop or factory in which workers
are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions."
- According to the group Sweatshop Watch:
- "A sweatshop is a workplace that violates the law
and where workers are subject to:
- -- extreme exploitation, including the absence of a living
wage or long hours;
- -- poor working conditions, such as health and safety
- -- arbitrary discipline, such as verbal or physical abuse,
- -- fear and intimidation when they speak out, organize,
or attempt to form a union."
- It's mainly a women's rights issue as 90% of the workforce
is female, between the ages of 15 - 25. But it's also an environmental
one as the global economy exacts a huge price through air pollution, ozone
layer depletion, acid rain, ocean and fresh water contamination, and an
overtaxed ecosystem producing unhealthy, unsafe living conditions globally.
- Wage Slavery in America
- In America, the US Department of Labor estimates that
half or more of the nation's 22,000 garment factories are sweatshops, mostly
in the apparel centers of New York, California, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta,
but also offshore in US territories like Saipan, Guam and American Samoa
where merchandise is labeled "Made in the USA."
- In all locations, wages are below subsistence, benefits
few if any, unions banned or powerless, and regulatory enforcement lax
or absent. Moreover, hours are long, working conditions unsafe, and those
complaining are fired and replaced.
- Conditions are also horrific for around two million farm
workers. They're ruthlessly exploited, living in impoverished misery, without
benefits, a living wage, overtime pay, or other job protections, even for
- Domestic servitude is another problem, affecting many
thousands, usually foreign women taking jobs as live-in workers, mostly
for the wealthy, foreign diplomats, or other domestic or foreign officials.
- Excluded from labor law protections, they're underpaid,
overworked, abused, given limited freedom, denied medical care, proper
food and nutrition, and are subjected to unsafe working conditions.
- So are many restaurant and hotel workers. They're also
underpaid, get few benefits, worked long hours with no overtime pay, fired
if they complain, and these practices exist for lack of regulation and
a growing demand for cheap labor. As a result, unscrupulous employers exploit
powerless workers for profit.
- If it's common in America, what chance have workers in
developing countries with lax labor laws, offering few protections, even
for children, to attract business.
- Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
- Its campaigns include stopping sweatshops in El Salvador
and at home, urging consumers boycott companies profiting from worker
exploitation. It's also promoting Violation-Free Zones in El Salvador's
Free Trade ones, assuring fundamental worker rights to organize collectively
for better pay and working conditions. Currently, workers there have no
rights. More below explains.
- New Report on El Salvador's Sweatshop Economy
- The National Labor Committee (NLC), now called the Institute
for Global Labour & Human Rights (IGLHR), prepared it. Issued January
24, it was prepared jointly with Mujeres Transformando/Women Transforming
(a Salvadoran women's rights NGO), discussing El Savador's sweatshop economy
"where women are paid just eight cents for each $25 NFL shirt they
sew at Ocean Sky Sweatshop." It represents six-tenths of 1% of each
shirt's retail price.
- IGLHR's Executive Director, Charles Kernaghan authored
the report with help from a six-member research team, including himself.
Its findings are discussed below.
- About 1,500 mostly women are affected, "locked in
a Free Zone, surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by guards armed with
- Besides the NFL, Ocean Sky produces garments for Reebok,
Puma, Old Navy (GAP), Columbia, Talbots and Penguin (Munsingwear). Merchandise
enters America duty-free even though El Salvador "is in blatant violation"
of CAFTA-DR's loophole-ridden labor standards.
- Workers are treated like prisoners. Under scorching heat,
they report being drenched in their own sweat, constantly cursed at and
humiliated. Moreover, security cameras monitor them. Illegal overtime is
mandatory. They're constantly pressured. Factory water is contaminated
with fecal coli, causing diarrhea, intestinal illnesses and infections.
For alerting fellow workers of the problem, six were fired.
- They earn a below-subsistence 72 cents an hour base wage,
up to 92 cents with a good attendance bonus. Even El Salvador's Ministry
of the Economy admits wages meet only one-fourth of a family's basic needs.
Moreover, even mentioning the word "union" assures termination.
- Sweatshop Sewing Lines (Modules)
- Each one has 14 workers, required to complete 1,500 T-shirts
in daily nine-hour shifts. Workers have no rights. Each one must finish
12 T-shirts hourly (five minutes per shirt), 167 per module.
- Sky International Limited
- Headquartered in Singapore, it operates facilities there,
in China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Madagascar, and three El Salvador
ones. Initially it was under its Hoons Apparel International name, later
changed to Ocean Sky Apparel in January 2008.
- Over 75% of its workers are women. Plant No. 1 operates
the main production lines and packing department. Plant No. 2 has the cutting
section and two small sewing lines, producing samples, as well as a storage
warehouse. Plant No. 3 operates printing and embroidery departments.
- Its web site promotes its "Vision-Mission-Values,"
including "Fun and Warmth," saying Ocean Sky strives:
- "To provide a happy and caring environment. 'Find
a job that you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.'
(The company stresses) teamwork. We encourage employee involvement and
participation, and respect the individual contribution to our success.
(It's also committed) to enhance the quality of life and protect the environment
of the communities in which we do our business."
- According to one worker, "We're treated like animals.
I tolerate working at the factory only because of my children."
- El Salvador's Free Zone a Virtual Prison
- Patrolled by shotgun-carrying guards, its walls are topped
with razor wire. Workers must show ID cards to enter. Others aren't let
in. Surveillance cameras monitor everything. Workers are harassed, threatened
and abused. Talking is prohibited. Another worker said:
- "I feel my hands shake because of the constant pressure
we are under. There is a man that is constantly measuring the time we spend
on sewing a garment. Supervisors and group leaders are the ones that mistreat
the workers the most. They tell us to quit if we don't like the work....Even
the general manager insults the workers who cannot reach their goals,"
- "We are told that we have no right to demand anything
'because you're in the factory to obey and work, (and) don't ever contradict
what we say because we are your boss.' "
- A former senior worker called Ocean Sky "an awful
experience because there was so much pressure and too much shouting. We
faced injustice....we were treated like children. They took away our time
for lunch (and) kept us" overtime without pay to complete daily quotas.
- They said if their shirts didn't sell in America, "we
are going to be left without work and with nothing to eat." But "we
are always hungry anyway. If someone has a conscience in the US, they should
feel guilty to be wearing such an expensive shirt while they don't understand
what it costs us here, being exploited."
- CATFA-DR Provisions
- Though one-way favoring corporate giants, it ostensibly
"guarantees that the government of El Salvador and the apparel companies
respect the legal rights of Ocean Sky workers." Yet, they're unaware
that laws prohibit forced overtime, require they be treated with respect
and correctly paid, and have the right to organize and bargain collectively
- Moreover, apparel companies have good conduct codes,
affirming worker rights, and are supposed to conduct surprise audits to
assure them. In fact, labor rights aren't enforced, so companies freely
exploit poor women and men, unaware of their rights with no power to demand
- Horrific Working Conditions
- Despite year round tropical temperatures, Ocean Sky
sealed all factory windows and keeps doors shut once worker shifts begin.
They say dust extractors are installed, but ventilators don't circulate
fresh air. In late April, temperatures reached 98 degrees, and assembly
lines are so closely packed that sewing machines increase heat levels.
- "We feel dizzy from the heat," one worker said.
Others complained of headaches and exhaustion by 2PM, and if not for loud
music to maintain alertness, they'd doze off from extreme exposure. One
sewing machine operator explained:
- "We can feel the sweat running down our legs. We
sweat so much our shirts stick to our bodies. It feels so uncomfortable.
When I get onto the shuttle bus, I am ashamed because I smell so bad every
- Filthy Drinking Water Not Fit for Washing
- Gotten from factory taps, they fill small plastic bottles
to use at work stations, but it tastes bad, they say. Yet supervisors call
the water "filtered and good to drink." In April and August 2010,
lab results showed it contained fecal coli, meaning it was contaminated
with raw sewage liable to cause diarrhea and salmonella poisoning. Pseudomona
aeruginosa and heterotrophic bacteria were also found, a lab report saying:
- "We have found a large amount of bacteria in the
water, and it is serious. The water is totally polluted, and can cause
sickness in humans such as diarrhea, stomach pain, stomach infections,
nausea, vomiting, and can foster conditions for parasites and amoebas.
The Pseudomona aeruginosa bacteria can grow in small cuts in the skin and
can cause skin infections even for workers who have small cuts on their
hands if they wash with this water."
- "We recommend an investigation of the water pipes,
a cleaning of the pipes using chlorine, and to check and clean the filters,
or install new" ones.
- For mentioning polluted water, six workers were fired.
Afterward, management announced that water quality would improve. Late
in May they said new filters were installed, and "the water was now
purified and 100 percent safe to drink." However, August tests showed
it was "too polluted to be used as drinking water."
- In fact, Ocean Sky "is run pretty much like a minimum
security prison where the workers, or 'inmates,' are prohibited from speaking
or questioning anything regarding how management runs the factory."
- Omnipresent Surveillance Cameras
- Installed throughout the factory, they're in locker areas,
on the production floor, in the packing department, even outside worker
bathrooms. All their moves are monitored, pressuring and intimidating them
to perform and obey all rules, including minimal use of toilets, no loitering
and no talking while working.
- Illegal Forced Overtime
- Regular El Salvador work weeks are 44 hours. At Ocean
Sky, factory hours are from 6:45AM - 4:30PM with 45 minutes for lunch,
and no other breaks, totaling nine and three-quarter hour days, an hour
less on Fridays.
- According to state labor law, all overtime must be voluntary.
Coercion is prohibited. The Salvadoran Labor Code's Article 170 stipulates:
- "Overtime work may only be agreed upon on an occasional
basis when unforeseen or necessary circumstances demand it," and must
be voluntary and limited.
- However, Ocean Sky management has its own rules, requiring
mandatory overtime, clear signs reading:
- "Given the nature of the work carried out, your
work shift will be, without further process, subject to overtime work according
to the needs of the company, whenever this is required" to complete
- As a result, operations sometimes continue until 8:30PM,
including a 30 minute supper break. On a six-day schedule from April through
June, workers spend 68 and a half hours at the factory, working 62 and
a half hours, including 18 and a half mandatory overtime hours.
- During especially busy April weeks, 13 and three-fourths
daily hours are required Monday - Friday. In July and August, production
slows somewhat to 63 factory hours present, 58 and one-half spent working,
including 14 and one-half mandatory overtime hours. By September and October,
lower production means little or no overtime for a 44-hour work week for
$175.41 a month, a fraction of what a family needs to survive.
- Well Below Subsistence Wages
- Base wage is 72 cents an hour, raised to 92 cents if
workers miss no workdays and arrive regularly on time. Nonetheless, at
below subsistence levels, it traps them and their families in poverty,
earning from $1,650 - $2,100 annually.
- Other benefits include $26.05 vacation pay, and with
one to three years at the same factory another $57.76 Christmas bonus.
Workers there longer get $86.85.
- They're paid every two weeks by direct bank deposit with
no pay slips except to review briefly and sign. Workers complain that they're
written in Spanish and English. They're also too complicated to check if
they've been correctly paid.
- Clearly, they get well below subsistence pay. In December
2009, El Salvador's Ministry of Economy said families of 3.81 people need
$759 a month to meet basic needs, including housing, food, utilities, transport,
education, shoes, and other essentials.
- A Final Comment
- IGLHR's Kernaghan notes that efforts to "promote
and protect human, women's and worker rights in the globally economy have
hit a brick wall." Corporate codes of conduct are meaningless. Workers
have no rights. These "codes existed side by side with slave labor
- Guilty parties include Wall-Mart, Kohl's, Sears, Nike,
GAP, LL Bean, Hanes, Gloria Vanderbilt, Wrangler, and many others. Under
CAFTA-DR, workers "have no rights or voice." Those complaining
are fired and blacklisted.
- Above all, Washington bears most responsibility, letting
corporate allies brutally exploit workers. Unless that changes, nothing
else will, and, in fact, conditions are worsening. The "reality on
the ground is exploitation and the creation of a permanent underclass to
service our economy."
- Moreover, since the late 1970s, it's been US policy.
Corporate power runs America. Unions have been crushed. Full-time, high-paying
jobs have been sacrificed for part-time, low-paying ones with few or no
benefits, and under Obama rampant unemployment, homelessness, hunger and
despair have grown unabated, heading the nation for third world status.
- Kernaghan asked if Washington "will give workers
across the developing world a voice and empower them to exercise their
legal rights?" Examining where America is headed suggests no chance
whatever for workers globally.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
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