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:
  • 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…”
Read the entire report here.


Anonymous said…
Hey Tim... you are so naive! The NLC is the industry of the denounce.Seriously you think that a union organize effort can be with 7 workers??? In a factory with 1,000 workers. comoooon.... Barbara Briggs, Charlie kernagagan and Sergio Chavez, are the only bennefits of this show... they always support a pittance union effort, and they make a big media show, at the same time they make a big business with the show (since 1987). Please let me know when a seriously union effort in El Salvador need to be support. I know very well El Salvador to impress me with this sensaniaolist post. You really know the labour issues in El Salvador or you only post in your blog the neews that you find in google????
Anonymous said…
is true, nobody respect in the union movement here in El Salvador, to Sergio Chavez, or the NLC, WORST FEASIES..... please... history please... of the social movement in El Salvador
Anonymous said…
The NLC, Charlie and Barbara have a history of swooping into El Salvador, doing blockbuster stories on labor rights abuses and then hightailing it, leaving the workers high and dry, with their union busted and crushed.

Hey, the cards are massively stacked against unionizing in El Salvador. The Labor Ministry keeps a black list of workers suspected of union organizing or sympathies and sells it to factory owners. Christmas firings, etc are the norm.

The NLC are not in solidarity with anything except themselves and self-promotion
Tim said…
By the quick and pointed comments, I may have blundered into an area where I need to learn more. So educate me. Here are my questions:
1) Are the facts that the NLC reported incorrect about this factory managed by Youngone? If so, what is your source of alternative information?
2) It appears the concern is that the NLC is big on media denunciations, but light on true solidarity with the workers and their struggle to assert their rights to unionize. Who are the organizations active in El Salvador currently doing the best job in that regard?
Hodad said…
the koreans always abuse workers, they need to prove themselves, as they are the lowest asians in Asia
kimchee eaters, ugggggh

and Diana, are paid off CIA bullshitter
Tim is far from naive
the facts are printed in this post
and I can verify myself as having a factory in Pedregal and Progresso both,
Asians are rude crude, and unattractive
get a grip
Anonymous said…
Let's be clear, ARENA considers Kernaghan and the rest of the NLC to be personas nongratas. It is very hard for them to do ANY work on Salvador because they can't get into the country!

I don't understand why ARENA would care so much if the NLC wasn't doing something right.
Anonymous said…
You know Tim who´s are the real organizations that make real job in the labor issues in El Salvador, please review your own historic post. I dont feel that Diana is paid for the Cia, is a stupid idea, I see that Diana know very well the situation in El Salvador. And is true, NLC, sucks!
Anonymous said…
Its a big lie that ARENA consider NLC people in El Salvador "nongratas", in fact Sergio Chavez (the guy of NLC in El Salvador) have a very luxorious office in Colonia Miramonte. In fact, ARENA need people like Sergio Chavez and Kernaghan to promote their politics against labour movement in El Salvador.
El-Visitador said…
«toil 47 hours of overtime a week, including some all-night 22 to 26-hour shifts»

$157.25/mo Minimum salary, maquila
$335.94/mo Mandatory overtime pay for 47 overtime hours (overtime pay is DOUBLE by law in El Salvador)
$58.97/mo Mandatory night-shift pay of 25% on top of the DOUBLE overtime, assuming 33 of the 47 hours of overtime occur at night
$42.88/mo Mandatory 50% premium for Weekend Sat/Sun pay, because the normal 44-hrs are consumed Mo-Fr. Assuming a mere 8 hrs of daylight weekend work out of the 47 quoted.

$595.04 TOTAL MINIMUM LEGAL COMPENSATION for the job described. And this is before the bonuses described in the article, which are above and beyond what the law requires. And this is assuming they all make minimum wage, which of course cannot be: in every factory, there are people who make above minimum, for a whole host of reasons.

And the $595.04 accumulates and raises for the employees mandatory paid vacation and mandatory severance and mandatory Personal Retirement Plan Account employer contribution and mandatory Social Housing Fund scheme.

These maquila workers are among the best paid in the developing WORLD, let alone in El Salvador!

Methinks the NLC has taken (once again) the gullible for a ride.
Anonymous said…
"In fact, ARENA need people like Sergio Chavez and Kernaghan to promote their politics against labour movement in El Salvador."

This makes absolutely no sense. How does the report that Tim cited in any way help ARENA "promote their politics against labour movement in El Salvador"? About the only way ARENA could use this to advertise to corporations, "Hey, come here and abuse our workers! See how horrible we treat them?"

The "NLC is in league with ARENA" hypothesis sounds about as logical as the old "the Jews control the Communists AND the Bankers" conspiracy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Come on people. If you have to make stuff up, at least make it plausible.

Also, I think it would be hard to call El Visitador a "friend of the labor movement." In fact, I think he'd be insulted. Why, then, would he be so upset if the NLC report is hurting the labor movement??

Oh, and by the way, how many people in the U.S. know ANYTHING about what is going on in El Salvador? When is the last time you saw a news report on El Salvador in the U.S. media? While many important human rights organizations don't have the time/resources to cover El Salvador, the NLC has done its best to raise awareness about the abuses in the maquilas. THAT certainly is not part of ARENA's strategy.
El-Visitador said…
«I think it would be hard to call El Visitador a "friend of the labor movement."»

Agreed: I am not a friend of the self-serving "labor movement," its air-conditioned offices in Miramonte, and its all-expenses paid junkets to the U.S. courtesy of Big Labor.

I am, on the other hand, best friend of labor. Regular folks who need jobs, you know.

Regular folks who would like to get jobs, but can't, because our labor market is over-regulated, over-mandated, and over-taxed. Hope you looked at my (accurate) overtime pay calculations: Salvadorean labor is 3 to 4 times more expensive than Indonesian, Thai, and Chinese labor. The resource-less former swamp known as Hong Kong, is, of course, wildly successful because among other things it has no minimum salary at all. Never has.

This is why billions of Asians have no problem getting jobs, even though they are far, far away from consumer markets, whereas we poor Salvadoreans, encumbered by European-style labor laws, face sky-high unemployment.

The corrupt "labor movement" is responsible for large portion of the poverty, underdevelopment, and misery of El Salvador.
El mal ejemplo said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jorge Ávalos said…
The first two comments were obviously placed by the same person, someone with a grudge against the NLC.

The numbers by El Visitador are right as far as I can see. Most people tend to get upset when they see numbers that don't agree with their arguments, and therefore conclude that they must be wrong. Well, these aren't wrong.

There are two problems with maquilas. The first is that the minimum wage for their workers is actually lower than the national minimum wage. In El Salvador we have a two-tier minimum wage, one for maquilas and one for everyone else. The other problem in maquilas has to do with those in the garment sector (there are also technology maquilas and you never hear of labor problems there). The workers in the garment maquilas are mainly women without much formal education and with not enough skills to face a very competitive labor market (our unemployment is about 35%, if I'm not mistaken). That means that they are very vulnerable and as they get older they will be willing to withstand a lot of abuse. What better example than Just Garments, where women sustain a lot of abuse with the complicity of very naive American labor organizations, unprepared to recognize the possibility of fraud.

When I was investigating that subject as a journalist, I obtained the IRS reports of certain labor organizations. Trust me, the NLC isn't rich. But the director of the Worker's Right's Consortium pays himself over 100,000 dollars a year. After the first "Just Garments" "success story" he raised his salary by over 20,000 dollars. I found that the compensation received by board members in another labor organization funded by president Clinton's initiative was about 200,000 dollars a year (sadly, I don't remember the organization's name right now, Fair something...). Anybody in the United States can obtain this IRS information since it comes from non-profit organizations. If you want to know how, I can tell you later, Tim.

Now, I discovered that the first funding received by the notorious Just Garments maquila came directly from AID. Don't you think that that is an unlikely source of funding for the left leaning labor movement? Well, Just Garments was anything but leftist in the end, but nonetheless...

Now, the labor movement does face enormous challenges in El Salvador. But part of the reason has to do with a distortion created in it by the war effort of the FMLN. Many unions and federations became to involved with the war effort during the 80's and this distorted their vision. A famous federation, Fenastras, is now essentially a ganster group, not unlike those malevolent unions created by the mafia in the 1930's in New York and Chicago, with the purpose of channeling government funding and contracts.

It's a sad state of affairs.
I stumbled upon this blog. Interesting topic and I applaud the effort of trying to keep info about El Salvador fresh.
also, very clear about you visiting on and off. That explains a lot.

However... This story... Come'n people!!! NLC is.. well... I keep my words in my mind as blogs are forever....
THEY DO THIS FOR THE MONEY. As long as they find "problems" (fabricated or not) they get sponsor dollars. They pose as protectors, so they need something to protect. Tim, I suggest you do you homework on this one. :)

Forget minimum wage! This comparison is so stupid (sorry for the choice of words, but really!) it is like saying a POOR UPS WORKER in Peoria "only" gets paid a couple of cents (if that!) for every express courier he sorts!!! OHMYGOD!!! Call Super Ch. K!!! And they charge up to 20 bucks for that same courier!!! How unfair!!!

I worked in the apparel business. BELIEVE ME, NO ONE sews a complete garment. NO ONE!! They perform AN operation. ONE. A north face jacket could have dozens of operations!! And that is just SEWING. Retail price includes freight, shipping, marketing, store mark up, overhead, packing, handling, inventory carrying costs, financing, call center reps., the bags, the nice lady ringing the register, and ALL of the costs of the materials, plus cutting the fabric, etc. SO MANY THINGS !!! Sewing one operations SHOULD cost just cents or there would be NO APPAREL BUSINESS!! Just like serving your daily starbuks should cost fraction of a cent.

I hope you get the picture.

Keep up the good work and PLEASE be FAIR AND OBJECTIVE. If you are leftist, just say so!!! Conservative? Go for it! But do not try to appear objective or centered if you are not. This last sentence is not for Tim, it is a general statement for all of us.

Best to all.
El-Visitador said…
«THEY DO THIS FOR THE MONEY. As long as they find "problems" (fabricated or not) they get sponsor dollars.»

Hear, hear. I've pointed out this little detail regarding Salvadorean NGOs over and over.

Yet some people elect to put their blinders on and prefer to believe that anything the money-driven ONGs say is the ultimate truth.

- * -

Unlike governments, which at least are answerable to voters, ONGs answer only to sponsors, meaning, special interests. A modicum of skepticism with regard to these nasty special interests is probably healthy.
Anonymous said…
Soy Sergio Chavez- Gracias por sus comentarios. Trabajo para el NLC y sus comentarios y preguntas son bienvenidos en los casos de Youngone-North Face o cualquier otra informacion que deseen. Welcome -Bienvenidos -
Anonymous said…
You can contact me in english or Spanish at:

Also I can facilitate you speak with Youngone workers, if you like.

Sergio Chavez
Anonymous said…
My sister was living in El Salvador for a long and she said that she has many problems with these people at work and they were over valuating the human beings rights so she decide to came back to USA.
Brughardt said…
Women in El Salvador sewing $165 jackets for North Face and $54 shirts for ...
Kilian said…
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 ...
Heino said…
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 ...
Anonymous said…
Thanks Tim, this helped me with my El Salvador sweatshop Powerpoint! a lot of useful Information