Alerts

Workers Appeal for Help as Just Garments Closes Amidst Sweatshop Scandal in El Salvador

April, 24 2007 Share

 

Read Just Garments workers' testimonies

 

April 24, 2007

Something went terribly wrong at the Just Garments factory in El Salvador, which was set up in 2003, supposedly as a worker cooperative with a strong and vibrant union.  According to the workers, neither was true.  The mostly women workers were mistreated, forced to work overtime--often unpaid, cheated of their benefits and routinely fired without receiving their legal severance pay.  Just Garments management deducted Social Security payments from the workers' wages, but illegally held the money rather than passing it on to the government.  This meant that the workers and their children had to go without healthcare, despite the fact that they were paying for it.  It was the same with their pensions:  the wage deductions were stolen.  Not a single worker who was there when Just Garments opened in 2003 remains.  They have either been fired or have quit in disgust over the abusive sweatshop conditions.

See the statement below released today in El Salvador, signed by an impressive list of highly respected human rights, women's and labor organizations.

(The Just Garments workers were afraid to sign the statement, fearing retaliation from Just Garments' manager, Gilberto Garcia, who was also responsible for setting up the "union" at the factory.)

SEAC International was formed by two Chilean brothers, one of whom was Amnesty International USA's Advocacy Director for Latin America from 1991 to 2000.  With the hope of making a strong and ethical investment and giving a major push to the sweat-free movement, SEAC lent to Just Garments over $87,000 during the course of 2006.  Further, it shipped to the factory a container of fabric for the production of shirts.

Click here for more on the promotion of Just Garments/SEAC

To date, Just Garments has not paid a penny back, and has refused to make arrangements for repayment or admit default.  Further, because of the negligence of Just Garments' customs broker and problems relating to the company's failure to make necessary Social Security and pensions fund payments, the container was seized by Salvadoran Customs.  Just Garments also refused to sign a document that would allow SEAC to rescue its shipment, resulting in the loss of another $60,000.

The Just Garments workers are now asking all of us for help so that they at least receive the back wages and benefits due them--including their Social Security payments and full severance pay.

Please write to Sweatfree Communities asking that money be raised to make these abused workers whole again.

The National Labor Committee is contributing $1,000 to the Just Garments workers.  We encourage you to do the same. 

Write to: 

Sweatfree Communities
30 Blackstone Street
Bangor ME 04401
Tel:  207-262-7277
Fax:  207-262-7211
Bjorn Claeson, executive director
Email: bjorn@sweatfree.org

 

TO DONATE TO THE JUST GARMENTS WORKERS: 

(The Salvadoran organizations have requested that the Institute serve as a channel for contributions to the Just Garments workers.  You can send a check or donate electronically via the Institute's website.  Every penny received will be sent to the workers, via the Las Dignas organization in El Salvador and you will receive a thank you for your contribution directly from the workers and Las Dignas.)

Fund for Just Garments Workers
c/o Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights
60 Boulevard of the Allies, 6th Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

tel: 412-562-2406

Click here to donate online. 

 

Salvadoran Organizations Statement re Violations at Just Garments 

April 23, 2007 

EN ESPANOL

Just Garments Closes Amidst Sweatshop Abuse, The Workers Need Help

The Just Garments SA de CV company was founded in El Salvador in 2003 and promoted internationally as a "unionized cooperative" controlled by the workers, where all their rights would be impeccably respected.  But it quickly descended into an abusive sweatshop, violating the labor laws of the country and the rights of the workers—victims, who were supposed to be the ones to be benefited.

From 2004 to the present, complaints have been received from dozens of Just Garments workers by the organizations signing this statement.  The complaints have been similar through the years:  mistreatment, sexual harassment, unjust firings, failure to pay severance pay as the Labor Code requires, or, in four cases, partial payment not in accordance with the law, and forced, unpaid overtime.  This company has also systematically appropriated the deductions made to the workers' wages for Social Security (ISSS) and pension fund (AFP) payments, depriving the workers and their children of the right to receive medical care and depriving them of the right to a pension in the future—which is also a penal crime according to Salvadoran law.  The fact that the robbery of workers' wage deductions at Just Garment or any other company is now considered a penal crime in El Salvador was only won through a  struggle by many of our women's, human rights and labor organizations.

The union of Just Garments never really functioned, never had autonomy nor internal democracy and did not in good faith represent the interests of the workers.  The union was controlled and manipulated by the substitute administrator of the Just Garment corporation, Mr. Gilberto Ernesto Garcàa Dueñas, for the purpose of promoting campaigns to raise funds, principally in the United States—fundraising efforts that continue even after the collapse of the company among some organizations which, out of ignorance or naivety continue believing that their contributions will benefit the workers.  According to the workers recently fired from Just Garments, none of the workers who began with the project in 2003 remained working at the factory.

We have learned of more frauds in the last few weeks.  For example SEAC International LLC, a company in solidarity with and committed to "Fair Trade" accuses Just Garments of swindling them and improper appropriation, since after having loaned that company more than $80,000 in good faith, now they refuse to return the amount borrowed or to recognize the debt.  In addition, because of the incompetence and negligence of the administration, a container filled with cloth destined to the company for assembly was declared abandoned by the Customs department of El Salvador.  The container, sent to Mr. Gilberto Ernesto Garcàa as legal representative of Just Garments, remains confiscated by Customs due to the fact that Mr. Garcàa, out of malice, has refused even to sign a document recognizing that the container does not belong to him.  Until he does sign, the container and the investment are lost.

In the case of Just Garments, the victims have been the workers who out of need to survive have put up with the abovementioned abuses.  It is for this reason that the undersigned organizations, with a long history in the defense and promotion of workers rights in El Salvador, support the demands of the fired workers of Just Garments, as we have done and will continue to do in cases of human and labor rights violation.  Our organizations are not and have not participated in any boycott against Just Garments.   Our only activity has to do with the UNCONDITIONAL SUPPORT FOR THE WORKER VICTIMS, based on JUSTICE, TRUTH and DIGNITY, so that cases like Just Garments will not be repeated and so that the workers will not again be victims of management abuse and manipulation.

Based on all the above, we call on all those people and organizations—especially in the United States--that have supported and contributed money to Just Garments to NOW SUPPORT THE WORKERS IN THEIR JUST DEMANDS UNDER SALVADORAN LAW AND THE ETHICS OF THE ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROMOTE JUST PRODUCTION.

Concretely, it should be demanded of the Just Garments company:

  • Payment of 100% of severance, proportional vacation and 13th month bonus and wages owed to the last group of workers fired following the closure of the factory on April 2, 2007.
  • Payment of legal benefits (100% of severance, vacations and 13th month) and wages owed to the workers fired during the 2004-2007 period while the company was receiving donations and other gifts from outside the country.
  • Reimbursement to all affected workers of Social Security deductions taken from the wages of the workers and not paid to the Salvadoran Social Security Institute.
  • Payment to all affected workers of deducted pension funds (AFP) dues that the company illegally appropriated during the time it was functioning.
  • A bonus that will allow the workers to sustain themselves with dignity while the procedures are underway to return their money and while they seek other jobs.
  • The workers, who in the last years out of need, accepted severance below what they legally should have received, should receive a complement to cover 100% of their severance, vacation and 13th month pay which they legitimately earned.
  • Repayment of the debt to the fair trade company SEAC International LLC so as not to do damage to the reputation of the country among good investors.

The gravity of this situation has lead ASEPROLA, the Association of Labor Advocacy Services and the Central American office of the National Labor Committee (NLC), both recognized for their commitment to the cause of labor rights in Central America to express their concern and their public support for the Salvadoran organizations' efforts in favor of the workers of Just Garments.

We also invite human rights and fair trade organizations in the U.S.—which in good faith supported and promoted the company—to now reflect on why this experience failed and in addition to ask for a serious accounting of funds transferred to Just Garments to know what happened to their donation or investment, so that these kinds of violations against the workers not be repeated in El Salvador or any other country in the world.

El Salvador, Thursday, April 19, 2007

 

Las Dignas — Asociación de Mujeres por la Dignidad y La Vida
(Association of Women for Dignity and Life)

IDHUCA - Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas
(Human Rights Institute of the Central American University "José Simeón Cañas")

MSM — Movimiento Salvadoreño de Mujeres
(Salvadoran Women's Movement)

ORMUSA — Organización de Mujeres por la Paz 
(Organization of Women for Peace)

FESS — Federación Sindical Salvadoreña
(Salvadoran Union Federation)

AMS — Asociación de Mujeres Salvadoreñas 
(Association of Salvadoran Women)

Mujeres Transformando 
(Women Transforming)

CE-MUJER
(Women's Study Center)

Oficina Centroamericana del Comité Nacional Laboral 
(Central American Office of the National Labor Committee)

FEASIES - La Federacion de Asociaciones o Sindicatos Independientes de El Salvador
(Federation of Independent Associations of Unions of El Salvador)


For more detailed information please contact:

- Henry Fino. Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" (IDHUCA), e-mail:: idhuca@yahoo.es

- Karla Molina. Asociación de Mujeres por la Dignidad y la Vida (Las Dignas), e-mail: economia@lasdignas.org

- Carlos Salinas. SEAC Internacional LLC: carlosmsalinas@verizon.net