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American Clothing Suppliers Use Gangs to Bust Unions

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Lindintracuay

This is precisely the reason why we need to be able to hold American corporations legally accountable for the actions of the suppliers:

Textile companies that make clothing for transnational brands in El Salvador are accused of forging alliances with gang members to make death threats against workers and break up their unions, according to employees who talked to IPS and to international organisations.

Workers at maquila or maquiladora plants – which import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export – speaking on condition of anonymity said that since 2012 the threats have escalated, as part of the generalised climate of violence in this Central American country.

“They would call me on the phone and tell me to quit the union, to stop being a trouble-maker,” one worker at the LD El Salvador company in the San Marcos free trade zone, a complex of factories to the south of the Salvadoran capital, told IPS.

She has worked as a sewing machine operator since 2004 and belongs to the Sindicato de la Industria Textil Salvadoreña (SITS) textile industry union. Some 780 people work for LD El Salvador, a Korean company that produces garments for the firms Náutica and Walmart.

“They told me they were homeboys (gang members) and that if I didn’t quit the union my body would show up hanging from one of the trees outside the company,” she said.
She added that LD executives hired gang members to make sure the threats directly reached the workers who belong to SITS, on the factory premises.

The warnings have had a chilling effect, because only 60 of the 155 workers affiliated with the union are still members, she said. Many quit, scared of falling victim to the young gangs, organised crime groups known in Central America as “maras”, which are responsible for a large part of the murders every day in this impoverished country.

This is all implicitly approved of by American trade policy and of course by Walmart and the other developed world corporations contracting in El Salvador. Obama’s cherished Trans-Pacific Partnership would double down on this global race to the bottom. Today is the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. That fire happened in part because the Uprising of the 20,000, 2 years earlier, failed to force sweatshop owners to improve working conditions. One reason for that was that those sweatshops hired prostitutes to start fights with striking workers, giving the police an excuse to bust the heads of the strikers. Very little has changed except that American companies have shifted the nation of production away from the U.S. None of this will change until we create a global legal system that holds these corporations accountable for the actions of their suppliers, giving workers in El Salvador and other nations legal recourse in the national home of corporate origin to fight against these horrible things. Right now, unlike in 1909 and 1911, it’s all out of our sight. That has to change if we don’t want Walmart suppliers employing murderous gangs to keep wages low.

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  • Lee Rudolph

    One reason for that was that those sweatshops hired prostitutes to start fights with striking workers

    Nowadays that sort of thing is handled by Fox News.

  • DrDick

    Well said! If Walmart thought they could get away with it, they would do the same here.

    • cpinva

      should have known this late in the day someone would beat me to the obvious observation. drat!

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  • SeattleCyclist

    Would this be covered under the 2000 California law against profiting in any way from gang-related crimes, even those in which the accused had no direct involvement? Rappers have been prosecuted for making music about shootings to which even the prosecutors concede they had no connection.

    Salvadorean gangs do have tight ties to gangs which operate in California. I know the law is almost certainly unconstitutional, but it appears that every Walmart employee is violating it. Three outcomes seem possible – Walmart forces suppliers to stop the practice, Walmart leaves California, or the law is tossed. All of which are improvements on the status quo.

  • Peterr

    A day after the 35th anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero, it seems that gangs being used to threaten those who demand basic human rights is still in style.

    Good for IPS in trying to tell this story, but sad that the broader media isn’t particularly interested. This was part of the problem Romero faced in his day, too . . .

    • cpinva

      unless it’s barking mad, RW grifterati loons announcing their candidacy for president, the US media isn’t interested.

  • Bruce Vail

    Estela Ramirez of the Sindicato de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores Sastres Costuereras y Similares was here in Baltimore Sunday to talk about the union campaigns in El Salvador at factories producing underwear for Fruit of the Loom and Hanes.

    Check your shorts, gentlemen.

    • Bruce Vail
      • cpinva

        who makes “Joe Boxer” brand clothing, sold exclusively (I believe) by K-Mart?

        • Bruce Vail

          Dunno, but try checking with the International Union League for Brand Responsibility.

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