North Face and the sweatshop in El Salvador
The National Labor Committee describes its mission as helping "defend the human rights of workers in the global economy. The NLC investigates and exposes human and labor rights abuses committed by U.S. companies producing goods in the developing world. [The NLC] undertakes public education, research and popular campaigns that empower U.S. citizens to support the efforts of workers to learn and defend their rights."
As part of that mission, the NLC recently published on its website a denunciation of the treatment of workers at a maquila garment factory in El Salvador owned by Youngone S.A., where expensive jackets under the North Face brand are sewn. Youngone is a South Korean company listed on the Korea stock exchange which operates garment factories in Bangladesh, El Salvador and elsewhere. Here is the report summary:
Read the entire report here.
- Women in El Salvador sewing $165 jackets for North Face and $54 shirts for Eddie Bauer cannot afford milk and other basic necessities for their children as their wages fall behind soaring food costs. Some mothers report they will have to take their children out of school.
- The women are paid just 94 cents for each $165 North Face jacket they sew—meaning that their wages amount to less than six-tenths of one percent of the jacket’s retail price.
- The workers and their families could climb out of misery and at least into poverty if the U.S. companies would pay a base wage of just $1.49 an hour.
- Sexual harassment: Women working in the Embroidery department stitching the logo on North Face jackets are routinely groped by their supervisor—a man named Jaime—and “invited” (pressured) to date him.
- Forced overtime: During the peak season, some workers are forced to toil 47 hours of overtime a week, including some all-night 22 to 26-hour shifts, from 7:00 a.m. straight through to 5:00 or even 9:00 a.m. the following day.
- Workers dripping in their own sweat: The factory lacks adequate ventilation, despite 100 degree temperatures.
- Harsh and abusive treatment: Supervisors constantly shout at the women to work faster, calling them “dogs,” “animals,” “dummies” and threatening to cut their bonuses or lay them off. Pregnant women face the same constant pressure and are often brought to tears.
- Salvadoran workers pitted against poor workers in Bangladesh: Management is always threatening the workers that Youngone also has huge plants in Bangladesh where the “workers really produce, unlike the Salvadorans, who only come to the factory to pass the time.” [The legal minimum wage in Bangladesh is just 12 cents an hour for helpers and 25 to 32 cents for junior and senior sewing operators. At least half the factories in Bangladesh violate the legal minimum wage. Unions are still outlawed in the free trade zones.]
- The Race to the Bottom: Rumors are spreading in the factory that there will soon be mass layoffs. This has never happened before, and the workers fear that Youngone may be shifting work to its lower cost plants in Bangladesh.
- Complete denial of the right to Freedom of Association: When the workers organized a union local at the Youngone factory, which was legally recognized by the Salvadoran Ministry of Labor, management responded by illegally firing five newly-elected union leaders along with four workers whom supervisors suspected of being union sympathizers. Youngone management told the fired workers: “You can go to the Ministry of Labor with your complaints… The company is not interested in having a union. We don’t care if the union is big or small. We don’t want them here.”
- North Face and Eddie Bauer audits are a joke: “Every three months,” the workers told us, “buyers from North Face and Eddie Bauer come to the factory to see the quality of their products, but they don’t speak to the workers.” However, when auditors are in the factory, “the supervisors suddenly behave as decent people. They don’t shout, instead speaking softly…”