Alerts

Alert--Violation of CAFTA at Sam Bridge SA Guatemala

October, 21 2007 Share

Another Violation of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement
Sweatshop Conditions Persist at Guatemalan Garment Factory

  

October 2007

 

National Labor Committee   
75 Varick Street, Suite 1500   
New York, NY 10013
www.nlcnet.org   
Tel: (212) 242-3002
nlc@nlcnet.org

 

 

CEADEL
1ra. Av. 4-76 Zona 4
Chimaltenango, Guatemala.
Tel. (502) 7839-3349
      (502) 2424-6122
ceadel@intelnet.net.gt  
director01@intelnett.com

 


 

Sam Bridge S.A. Garment Factory
Pan-American Highway, Kilometer 37.5
Granja Manzanales, Santiago
Sacatepequez, Guatemala

Phone: (502) 787-93614
Fax:     (502) 787-93615
Email:  ejpark@vavasbr.com

Ownership:  Korean
President:   Myung Chul Kim Jo
(The factory was opened in 1993 under the name Sam Lucas, S.A., and was renamed Sam Bridge S.A. in 2001.  The ownership remained the same.)

Employees: 1,000-plus, 70 percent of whom are women

 

 

Outside the Sam Bridge S.A. Garment Factory.

Sam Bridge S.A. is a large factory.  The workers say it is a direct contract plant and not a subcontract operation, and that it has been certified by WRAP (The American Apparel & Footwear Association's Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production monitoring operation) as being in compliance with all Guatemalan labor law as well as internationally recognized worker rights standards.  If Sam Bridge has indeed been certified by WRAP, then something is seriously wrong with WRAP's monitoring program (it would not be the first time)—as Sam Bridge is definitely a sweatshop. 


Production—Currently the factory is producing the following labels:
  • Briggs New York:  blouses and pants
  • United:  Jackets, blouses, dresses for United Airlines
  • Koret:  Blouses, stretch pants, shorts
  • J.M. Collection:  Women's pants
  • Pantology:  women's pants


 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
Hours—Forced Overtime
  • Forced overtime:  11, 13 and 15-hour shifts;
  • Some weekend 19 ½ hour shifts in the packing department;
  • Not uncommon to be at the factory 72 hours a week, while toiling 66 hours, including 22 hours of mandatory overtime;
  • Workers docked 1 ½ day's wages for missing even a single overtime shift.

The routine shift at Sam Bridge is 11 hours, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a five-hour shift on Saturday.  Such a schedule would put the workers at the factory 60 hours a week, while working 55 hours, including 11 hours of mandatory overtime.  The regular, legal workweek in Guatemala is 44 hours, with a nine-hour shift, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and a four hour shift on Saturday.

However, due to excessive production demands, few actually work just 55 hours a week.  It is typical, at least once a week, for the workers to be kept one night to 8:30 p.m., putting in a 13-hour shift, and another night to 10:30 p.m., at 15-hour shift.  When the workers are kept to 10:30 p.m., they receive a half-hour supper break.  Also, it is not uncommon for workers to be kept on Saturday until 4:30 p.m.—rather than getting out at 11:30 a.m.—putting in a nine-hour shift.  When workers are forced to remain to 10:30 p.m., they are only notified the same day at around 2:0 0 p.m., leaving parents scrambling to arrange child care.  It is not uncommon for workers to be at the factory 72 hours a week, while working 66 hours, including 22 hours of forced overtime.  An average workweek would be a little over 62 hours.

In the Packing department, it is much worse.  As clothing shipments leave for the U.S. on Mondays, the Packing department workers are routinely forced to work a 19 ½ hour shift on Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. straight through to 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.  At times they must work two such shifts on a weekend, putting in 39 hours at the factory in just two days.

Routine Daily Shift
(Monday through Friday / 11 to 15 hours a day)

7:30 a.m. — 12:00 noon (Work, 4 ½ hours)
12:00 p.m. — 1:00 p.m. (Lunch, 1 hour)
1:00 p.m. — 6:30 p.m. (Work, 5 ½ hours Including two hours overtime)

There are also frequent 13 and 15-hour shifts from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 or 10:30 p.m.

Weekends
(Saturday shift 5 to 9 hours)

7:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. (Work, 5 hours)

The shift if frequently extended to 4:30 p.m.—making it nine hours with one hour for lunch.

As is typical, one worker was recently required to put in a 13-hour shift, 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with another seven-hour shift on Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  This put her at the factory 72 hours that week, while toiling 66 hours, including 22 hours of mandatory overtime.

At the low end, workers would typically be at the factory 62 hours a week, while working 57 hours, including 13 hours of overtime.  Under this schedule, the workers would be required to work four 11-hour shifts, one 13-hour shift, and a five-hour shift on Saturday.

Workers who cannot remain to work an overtime shift—for whatever reason, even a family emergency—will be given a written warning.  The third time this happens, the worker will be fired with no right to their severance pay or other legal benefits.  More recently, the factory management has started to fine worker 75 Quetzals ($9.87, more than 1 ½ day's wages) for missing a single overtime shift.

When the workers are kept to 10:30 p.m., they receive a half-hour supper break and a free meal, which the workers refer to as "prison food" since the small sausages with cabbage that is provided tastes awful.  Also, since public transportation does not function at that hour, the company provides transport.  But here too, the workers are upset that the company buses drop them blocks from their homes, which makes for a frightening late-night walk through a poor and dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood.


Wages—Base wage of 75 cents an hour leaves workers dependent upon overtime to just barely survive

The legal minimum wage in Guatemala is 45.85 Quetzals ($6.03) a day, $33.16 a week—and just 75 cents an hour.  However, in Guatemala, as in the rest of Central America, it is typical to also pay a Seventh Day's pay, meaning that the workers will be paid for seven days, while actually working 5 ½ days.  (Ie. workers are getting paid for 56 hours while actually working 44.)  The Seventh Day's pay—which also functions as a sort of attendance bonus, which is lost if the workers either miss a day or arrive late—adds another 21 cents an hour to the base wage.  In addition, beginning in 2001, the government mandated that a Q250 ($32.89) bonus be paid to the workers each month, adding another 17 cents an hour to the base wage, bringing it up to $1.13 an hour.

Regular weekday overtime must be paid at a 50 percent premium, above the 75-cent base wage, or $1.13 an hour, while weekend overtime must be compensated at a 100 percent premium, $1.51 an hour.

A worker toiling a 66-hour workweek including 22 hours of mandatory overtime can earn $79.08 a week, for an average of $1.20 per hour including the overtime premium, the Seventh Day's pay and the government-decreed monthly bonus.

In the past, the factory also provided a Q50 ($6.58) bonus every two weeks to workers whose assembly line reached their assigned production goals.  Toward the end of 2006, the mandatory production goals were arbitrarily raised to wildly excessive levels which no line could possibly reach.  So the workers have taken a step back in that no one receives the weekly $3.29 bonus any longer.

Now management hands out smaller bonuses of 99 cents to $1.97 each week to the few select workers who are "glad to work overtime and don't protest" and who "work really hard to reach their goals."

The cost of living in Guatemala is, of course, lower than it is in the U.S.  But no one—let alone a family—can possibly survive on a base wage of 75 cents an hour.  Without overtime, the workers cannot survive.  Minimum wages in Central America—like the U.S.—do not even come close to meeting the basic cost of living.


Constant Violations and Abuse

 

 

  • Arbitrary production goals set by management at wildly excessive levels that the workers cannot possibly reach.
  • In late 2006, some production goals were increased 67 percent—from 1,500 pairs of pants to 2,500 in a ten-hour shift, with no increase in wages.
  • Women are allowed just 20 seconds to complete each hem and are required to sew 1,800 pants hems each day.
  • Workers are paid just 31 cents for each pair of Koret stretch pants they sew, and just $1.12 for each United Airlines jacket they complete.
  • Supervisors constantly shout and curse at the women to work faster, screaming:  "You're all like shit, like piss water;"
  • So they will reach the excessive production goals, management does not want the workers to drink water or use the bathroom during working hours, which will take them away from their sewing machines.  Worker who try to use the bathroom more than once a day will be screamed at and threatened.  The bathrooms are also filthy, lacking even toilet paper.
  • Workers are soaked in their own sweat since, to save money, management has shut off the factory's ventilation fan system.
  • Five hundred workers have to take their lunch either standing up or sitting on the cement floor, as there are not enough tables and chairs in the company cafetaria.
  • Despite the fact that there are over 1,000 workers at the factory, there is just one small clinic with a nurse and no medicines available other than aspirin.
Wildly Excessive Production Goals:

Conditions at the Sam Bridge factory began seriously deteriorating at the end of 2006, when a new plant manager, a Korean woman called "Yeni" took over.  She had formerly managed another large Korean garment factory nearby called Dong Bang.  (The Dong Bang factory was also riddled with sweatshop violations before the workers, the Center for Support of Local Development—CEADEL— and the National Labor Committee contacted the U.S. apparel companies demanding improvements.)

At the end of 2006, mandatory daily production goals were arbitrarily and excessively raised to impossible levels, while treatment of the workers became rougher and more agressive.

Production goals, which were set at 1,500 pairs of women's pants per assembly line during the standard 10-hour shift, were suddenly raised to 2,500 pairs—a 67 percent increase—but with no increase whatsoever in wages.  On every line, the minute the workers came near to reaching their goal, management increased it the following week.  For example, one woman was recently given the target of completing the hems on 140 pant legs (70 pairs of pants) every hour, meaning she had to sew one hem every 25.7 seconds.  Working as hard as she could, she could only sew 130 per hour.  However, when she reached the 130 pieces, management suddenly raised the goal to 180 pieces per hour, slashing the time allowed to just 20 seconds per operation.  The woman now has to complete 1,800 hems in the 10-hour shift, which is impossible.

 Some Examples of What Workers are Paid to Sew Each Garment
--Direct Cost of Labor—

  • Koret stretch pants with elastic waist:  31 cents
  • Koret blouses with zipper or buttons:  61 cents
  • United Airlines jackets:  $1.12
  • United Airlines shirts and blouses:  $65 cents
  • Briggs New York pants for men and women:  26 cents
  • Briggs New York short sleeved women's blouses, floral design in various color, some with embroidery:  43 cents
  • JM Collection pants for women:  31 cents

The system operates like this:  With the United Airlines jackets for example, the mandatory production goal is 800 jackets in the routine 10-hour shift—these are elaborate jackets—for an assembly line of 75 sewers.  The 75 workers must complete 80 United Airlines jackets per hour, which in effect means that each worker has 56.23 minutes to sew each jacket.  Even if we assume the highest wage in the factory of $1.20 an hour including overtime and bonuses, this still means that the total direct labor cost to sew the United Airlines jacket from beginning to end is just $1.12.

For the simpler Koret stretch pants, the mandatory goal is much higher.  It is 2,500 pairs of pants per day, this time for an assembly line of 64 sewers in the standard 10-hour shift.  Here, the workers must complete 250 pairs of pants per hour, which means in effect that each worker must sew 3.91 pairs of pants per hour, or one pair every 15.35 minutes.  Again assuming the highest wage of $1.20 per hour, these workers are paid just 31 cents for each pair of Koret stretch pants they sew.

This proves that the direct labor cost involved in sewing these garments is insignificant in relation to the garments' retail price in the U.S.  There is no necessary reason why the workers must be exploited and abused, other than corporate greed to consistently grow their profits.  It is always the weakest link—the workers in the developing world who are stripped of their legal rights—who bear the cost of increasing corporate profits.



Abusive Treatment Worsens

It is now routine in the factory—an everyday occurrence—for supervisors to scream, curse at and humiliate the workers for not working faster.  Supervisors taunt the workers shouting:

- "Do you have garbage for brains?..."
- "Why can't you reach the goal? ...You're all like shit, like piss water."
- "It's easier to work with animals than you.  You're good for nothing."

The production manager refers to the workers as "thieves" who like to sit around to collect their wages but do not like to work.  Every minute of every day, they are driving the workers to constantly work faster.

Management does not want the workers to drink water or use the bathroom.  Supervisors tell the workers it is not necessary to go to the bathroom twice, just once is sufficient, during the ten-hour shifts.  And besides, they can use the toilet during the lunch break.  Supervisors advise the workers, "Listen, don't drink water, because you know it is going to make you want to go to the bathroom." Supervisors time the workers when they get up to use the bathroom.  If they take "too long" or try to use the bathroom twice, supervisors yell, "Why do you go to the bathroom so much?  Do you eat there?  We don't want sick people like you here."

The bathrooms are filthy, lacking toilet paper, soap or towels, and at least half the toilets are broken.  As we will explain later, it is only when the gullible North American auditors are about to arrive that the bathrooms are cleaned and toilet paper is available in abundance.

Fans are "a luxury that the factory cannot afford." This is what the new plant manager told the workers when she arrived in late 2006.  Before that, the factory's ventilation system—fans and air extractors, not air conditioning—were always on during the workday.  No the system is off and the workers get soaked in their own sweat.  The factory is in a highland area which is not especially hot by Guatemalan standards, but especially between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. the factory is very hot, made even worse by all the running machinery and overhead lights.

Despite the fact that there are over 1,000 workers at the factory, there is just one small clinic with a nurse, and no medicines other than aspirin.  It is also almost impossible during working hours for the workers to receive permission to use the clinic.  Again, when the U.S. corporate auditors show up, the clinic is suddenly stocked full of medicines, which are emptied out the minute the monitors leave the plant.

About 500 workers have to take their lunch standing up or sitting on the cement floor, as the factory cafeteria has tables and chairs for only half the workers.  The company charges about $1.09 for lunch, which is 1 ¼ hour's wages, which is too expensive for the workers, who bring their own lunch, mainly rice and beans and possibly an egg.  The factory does provide clean drinking water.

Eighty workers fired without receiving their legal severance pay:  Between August 30 and 31, about 80 workers from different production lines were fired.  It appears that management is targeting the older, more senior workers for termination.  Also among the fired were many of those who took the lead in challenging management abuses.  For example, around April, management instituted mandatory 12-hour shifts, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturdays.  To make it a little more acceptable, management said they would provide free company buses to take the workers home at the end of the shift.  Management did not honor its commitment and a work stoppage was called.  The senior workers who confronted management and led the stoppage were among the fired.

Workers also overheard supervisors talking among themselves and saying:  "There are a lot of young that need the opportunity to work, and because they are young they produce more.  We have to screw with these old ones so they leave the factory."

Management has offered the fired workers less than 50 percent of the legal severance pay due them, which according to Guatemalan law is one month's wages for every year worked.  It is hardly an enormous amount of money, but management wants to cheat the workers right up to the end.

One woman, a single mother who has worked at Sam Lucas and now Sam Bridge for the last sixteen years, explained that she hardly sees her children, who are left with their grandmother as she is at work all the time.  "Even so," she said, "even with all these years working, all I can afford is public school, notebooks and milk and cereal for my children."

 

 

Workers like this single mother desperately need their full severance payment in order to survive over the next few months as they pick up the pieces and search for new work.

The fired workers appealed to the local Ministry of Labor office in the city of Antigua, where officials (wearing Koret shirts which looked exactly like the ones the workers sewed in the factory) encouraged them to accept the 50 percent severance that was offered by the company.  The Ministry of Labor officials told the workers that they should accept the severance as is "because the legal procedures to fight this are very slow and lost money."

Nevertheless, many workers have decided not to walk away quietly and rather, with the help of CEADEL, have decided to challenge the company to win the full legal severance pay which is their right.

Management has responded that due to the "economic situation" of the company, the best Sam Bridge can offer is to pay 60 percent of the severance owed.  The workers again refused, and the Ministry of Labor has washed its hands of the case, turning it over to the courts.  In a written statement, the Ministry said, "...the administrative procedures with the Ministry of Labor ended, and the workers can continue with their demands through the court, and they only have 30 days to do it."

The Ministry of Labor appears, in reality, to hold very little sway over the large garment plants.  How could the Ministry be so paralyzed?

After all, this is a very straightforward case.  The law states that when fired, workers must receive their full legal severance pay, to be calculated at one month's wages for each year worked.  The Ministry of Labor would seemingly almost have to go out of its way to be so ineffectual in such a concrete case.

Some workers are being offered just 32 percent of the severance pay legally due them.


The Corporate Audit Scam

Before the gullible North American auditors arrive, the workers are instructed "not to look in the face of the auditors, because it is considered bad manners."  Rather, the workers are to keep their heads down and concentrate on their work.

There are also brief training meetings in which the supervisors explain to the workers, "Look.  The ones coming will send us more work.  So it is important that you not say anything bad about the factory.  It is important that everything you say is positive."  The workers are even instructed that, should they be asked whether or not they have the freedom to organize, to respond "Yes." According to management, workers do have the right to organize. —They have organized sports teams, and "that is part of freedom of association."

As mentioned, in further preparation for the corporate audits, the bathrooms are cleaned and stocked with toilet paper, soap and towels, while the factory clinic is overflowing with all sorts of medicines.  The minute the auditors leave, the toilet paper and medicines disappear again.

The workers think there are some small corporate codes of conduct taped to the factory wall.  But they have never received any explanation regarding what is in the codes or regarding what their rights supposedly are.


What the U.S. Companies Must Do

The workers' demands are straightforward and extremely modest, namely to restore at least minimal respect for Guatemala's labor laws at the Sam Bridge factory.  No one wants the U.S. companies to cut and run, pulling their work from Sam Bridge, which would only further punish the workers, who have already suffered enough.  The companies should keep their production in Sam Bridge while working with their contractor to clean up the factory, taking the necessary concrete steps to guarantee that the rights of the workers will finally be respected.

  • All the fired workers must immediately receive at least their full legal severance pay according to Guatemalan law.
  • All overtime should be voluntary, with sufficient prior notice given so that parents can arrange for child care.  (As mentioned, workers need and depend upon overtime work to survive, and they are more than willing to work, But at those times when emergencies arise, the workers must be free to turn down overtime work.)
  • The maltreatment, shouting, cursing and threats on the part of supervisors must cease immediately.  The plant manager must either change her rough behavior and comply with the law, or be replaced.
  • Production goals should be checked—and the workers should have a voice in this process—to determine if the goals are excessive.
  • Workers should have access to the bathrooms, which should also be cleaned and provided with sufficient toilet paper, soap and towels.
  • The workers' right to real freedom of association and to organize an independent union must be respected according to Guatemala's labor laws.