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Ocean Sky: Workers Win Major Improvements

May, 04 2011 Share

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Workers producing for Adidas-Reebok, Puma, Gap, Columbia, Perry Ellis Win Major Improvements following publication of Institute/Women Transforming Report

 

Summary

Ocean Sky is now a much better place to work--

  • Doors and windows that had been sealed shut have been opened to let in more light and air. Ventilation fans have also been added.
  • Forces overtime has been eliminated. Now all overtime work is to be strictly voluntary.
  • Workers now receive copies of their detailed pay stubs, in Spanish documenting what they are being paid and allowing them to understand the hours they are being paid for, pay rates and deductions.
  • The factory management has taken action to prohibit the verbal abuse and and provide additional training to supervisors regarding appropriate communications and treatment of the workers at Ocean Sky.
  • Factory management is taking steps to eliminate contamination and improve the quality of the factory's drinking water.
  • Ocean Sky's major buyers (Adidas-Reebok, Puma, Columbia, Gap, Perry Ellis) have all committed, in meetings with GLHR, our partner Women Transforming, Ocean Sky and the Salvadoran government, to keeping their production in the factory and to work with management to resolve the problems identified in GLHR's report and confirmed in their own investigations. (Results of a 2-week Ministry of Labor audit of the plant in February have not been made public.)
  • Ocean Sky International LTD itself a multinational company has also committed to keeping its production in El Salvador. Ocean Sky management has also promised to post the company's Code of Conduct on their website, as well as to translating it into Spanish.

Challenges remain:

  • Ocean Sky management and its buyers have committed that there will be no retaliation against workers who speak the truth about the conditions in the plant. Nevertheless, there is still considerable distrust and fear among the workers. Our partners feel strongly that to insure that advances at the factory are sustained, it will be critical to break this cycle so that workers feel secure enough to speak out, participate and organize.

  • Lacking worker participation and pressure, wages and benefits remain low.
  • The labels and Ocean Sky International, in a recent released report, admit all labor and human rights violations at Ocean Sky exposed in the research released by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and Mujeres Transformando at the end of January.

 

Background

On January 24, 2010, following a 9-month investigation, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and our Salvadoran partner Mujeres Transformando (MT) released a report on the labor conditions and abuses at the Ocean Sky factory in El Salvador, which is owned by the Singapore-based Ocean Sky International LTD.  The report and letters pressing for prompt action to end the violations were sent to Ocean Sky, the Salvadoran Ministry of Labor and all of the companies whose labels are produced in the factory.

Adidas-Reebok, Puma, Columbia, Perry Ellis, and Gap launched investigations, sending delegations to speak with the Ocean Sky management, monitor the factory and speak with organizations involved in the case.

The Minister of Labor said publicly that there were "strong signs that something is wrong" at Ocean Sky and ordered a two-week audit of the factory, which took place in February 2011.  (GLHRs partner organizations on the ground would have liked to see the Ministry take a stronger public stand and action, and feel that it is unfortunate that the audits results are, to date, being kept confidential.) 

Mujeres Transformando, the Salvadoran labor federation FEASIES and GLHR's El Salvador office also worked to keep Ocean Sky's workers informed of developments, handing out over 1300 leaflets to Ocean Sky workers as they left work and setting up a "Hotline"-phone numbers the workers could call to report on problems or developments in the factory.

 

Via the Hotline, workers made the following comments:

  • "100 percent of what you wrote in the report is truth"
  • Regarding the change of policy in February, allowing the workers to leave the factory at lunch time:  "We feel very glad to be able to leave  the factory during the lunch time. It's unhealthy to be locked all day long in the factory. Outside we can buy better and cheaper food, with bigger portions, and also take some fresh air and call our families. This was thanks to the denunciation, which is the only way these people understand."
  • "We continue sweating but not as before; without shouting and pressure and with more fresh air we're working more comfortably, although the wages are not enough. Are wages going to improve also?"

 

In a February 2011 meeting with GLHR and Women Transforming in February, Danny Goh, senior vice president of Ocean Sky International and Mr. Ken Tai Fuey Chian, Ocean Sky El Salvador's general manager, committed that no reprisals would be taken against any worker involved in the report. Going one step further, Ocean Sky's buyers stated that  any worker unjustly fired because of the report would be reinstated.

Formerly sealed windows have been opened up and exits that had been blocked with boxes are now clear.  New ventilation fans have been installed in the production plant.  According to the workers, these changes have improved air quality and reduced temperatures (which some afternoons used to climb to over 98 F (36.7 C), over El Salvador's legal maximum of 27degrees C (80.6 F)

According to management, Ocean Sky is revising its contract to eliminate language which (illegally) makes overtime obligatory.  Workers will be asked to sign new contracts with language approved by the Ministry of Labor.

 

There's still a lot to be done

Management should modify the current attendance bonus policy by which a worker loses a full day's wage for arriving a few minutes late or taking personal leave (which the workers have the right to do under Salvadoran law).   Deduction from the attendance bonus should be pro-rated.

Respected local organizations should be allowed to train Ocean Sky workers in their legal rights. Posting Codes of Conduct on the factory wall, though a positive step, is not enough, since the workers generally do not have time to read them, and the majority do not understand the corporate language.

A functioning Health and Safety Committee should be established as per the new Salvadoran law. The workers have the right to elect half of the members of the committee, and this will help empower the Ocean Sky workers.

Water analyses done by GLHR and subsequently by the University of El Salvador, UCA's indicated that water in the plant continues to be contaminated in  several areas of the factory including the kitchen (cafeteria) area, administrative building and in several bathrooms.  It is important to address this health concern.

Worker pay rate is another very important pending issue.  The current base wage of $173.70 a month (which is the legal minimum wage in El Salvador) is not nearly enough to live on. This wage only amounts to one-third of what would be a living wage in El Salvador, according to (very conservative) government figures.  Even according to the Government's figures, a small family earning $173.70 straddles the line between abject poverty (misery) and poverty.   Ocean Sky, Adidas-Reebok, Perry Ellis, Puma, Columbia and GAP can surely do a better job of assuring that their workers' full time workers wages come closer to meeting their family's basic needs.

 

More on wages in El Salvador

El Salvador has one of the lowest maquila export sector minimum wages in all of Central America.  

Meanwhile the factories protected by the Free Zone Law in El Salvador continue to enjoy generous incentives, including:

*100%  income tax exemption
*100% import duty tax exemption
*100% value added tax exemption

Central America
Maquila minimum wages 2009 - 20011
As of May 1, 2011

Country

2009

2010

2011

Costa Rica

$411.00

$ 428.00

$ 443.00

Guatemala

$210.31

$228.16

$ 254.18

Honduras

$192.57

$ 206.17

$ 230.28

El Salvador

$ 173.70

$ 173.70

$ 173.70

Nicaragua

$122.68

$ 133.80

$ 146.22

Sources: Ministries of Labor of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Chart made by GLHR's Central America Office

 

Ocean Sky Campaign Page