Good intentions didn't generate business success for Just Garments

I have written before about Just Garments, the "no sweat" garment factory in El Salvador, owned by unionized workers and promising to pay a living wage to its employees. Just Garments never succeeded as a business. The Los Angeles Times now tells the story of a dream which failed to succeed in the harsh reality of the global marketplace:

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- It was a story of hope: a Central American sweatshop transformed into a unionized, worker-run apparel factory, thanks to nearly $600,000 in loans and donations, including help from retailers Gap Inc. and Lands' End and the AFL-CIO.

Boosters traveled to U.S. college campuses and church basements, touting the Just Garments plant in El Salvador as a company looking to do well by doing right by employees. Impoverished Salvadorans saw a chance to earn better wages and have a say in their future.

"We had a dream," said sewing machine operator Esperanza Caridad Mejia.

In the end, that's all it was.

Just Garments closed its doors in April, owing 55 former workers $65,000 in back pay and benefits, according to a union official. Employees say they never made more than minimum wage. Many weeks they didn't get paid at all. Some have come forward alleging poor working conditions and unjust firings.

Despite the funds from major retailers and others, steady contracts never materialized. A lender is questioning how money was spent.

Just Garments is now caught in a tangle of recriminations and legal actions. The closing has unraveled the once close-knit workforce, split organizations that would normally be allied and put some U.S. anti-sweatshop groups in the position of having backed a project accused of engaging in some of the practices they condemn.

It has also prompted soul-searching by supporters who admit that operating a sweat-free factory profitably is easier in theory than reality. Just Garments, some say, was doomed from the outset, lacking sufficient capital, seasoned management or even a market for its products.(more)


Caesar said…
How come no one from the unions complained about people not getting paid? Isn't that what the unions are for, to fight for workers rights? Its tough to understand that the truth only came out after it closed down..
Anonymous said…
This is an excellent question to ask particularly of Scott Nova of the Workers Rights Consortium, gioven that their representative in El Salvador, Tara Mathur, was very closely aligned with Garcia, CEAL,STITT, and Just Garments. As far as i can tell, they withheld information from us for had we known what it turned out they knew, we would have NEVER invested in Just Garments. There were others who also knew just what a mess Just Garments was and when we aproached them with the info, the only thing they wanted to do was wash their hands off the whole mess.

Carlos Salinas
SEAC International LLC
Washington, DC
Anonymous said…
Brothers Salinas, Kearnagan, and many more were cheated by Gilberto García, who used some friends of STIT (an union workers)to collect money. Why nobody supervised them?
Why dont you check the propierties or bank accounts, Garcia has in El Salvador? What about the equipment Just Garments owns: Can it be taken to paid dues?
Anonymous said…
I talked in this matter with Mathew Eisen a few months ago in El Salvador, Brothers Salinas hired him. He explain me that the brothers Salines sent the fabric for JG with four months of delay and they never sent on time the money that they agree in a business deal with JG. Now the Salinas brothers are soiling everything, including to Mathew, to hide his incapacity. Everybody know Kernaghan has been hating to Garcia since many years ago and his campaign is a revenge. The same is Cuellar from IDHUCA. He hates to Garcia because is part of the movement against the ILEA. All is a dirty and personal revenge, and all the solidarity movement must to deny join in this stupid thing.