September, 20 1999 |  Share

Kathie Lee Sweatshop in El Salvador

Caribbean Apparel, S.A. de C.V.
American Free Trade Zone
Santa Ana, El Salvador

Labels: Kathie Lee (Wal-Mart), Leslie Fay, Koret, Cape Cod (Kmart)

A Korean-owned maquila with 900 plus workers. Caribbean Apparel is inaccessible to public inspection. The American Free Trade Zone is surrounded by walls topped with razor wire. Armed guards are posted at the entrance gate.


  • Death threats
  • Workers illegally fired and intimidated
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Forced overtime
  • Locked bathrooms
  • Starvation wages
  • Workers paid 15 cents for every $16.96 pair of Kathie Lee pants sewed
  • Cursing and screaming at the workers to go faster
  • Denial of access to health care
  • Workers fired and blacklisted if they try to defend their rights


Sweatshop Conditions at Caribbean Apparel:

Forced Overtime:

  • 11-hour shifts, 6 days a week
    • Monday-Friday: 6:50 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.
    • Saturday: 6:50 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. There are occasional shifts to 9:40 p.m.
  • It is common for the cutting and packing departments to work 20-hour shifts from 6:50 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.
  • Anyone unable or refusing to work the overtime hours will be suspended and fined, and upon repeat "offenses" they will be fired.
  • There is no time clock. Records of an employee's overtime hours are written in a log by the supervisor. Workers report that it is not uncommon to be short changed two hours of overtime if the supervisor is angry with them.
  • There is a one 40-minute break in the day for lunch from noon to 12:40 p.m.

Mandatory Pregnancy Tests:

  • All new workers must undergo and pay for a pregnancy test.
  • If they test positive they are immediately fired. The test costs two days wages.

Below Subsistence Wages: The base wage at Caribbean Apparel is 60 cents an hour or $4.79 for the day. This wage meets only 1/3 of the cost of living.

Searched On the Way In and Out: Workers are searched on the way in—candy or water is taken away from them which the company says might soil the garments. On the way out, the workers are also searched.

The Factory is Excessively Hot: The factory lacks proper ventilation. There are few fans. In the afternoon the temperature on the shop floor soars.

No Clean Drinking Water: Only tap water is available, which is dirty and warm. Caribbean Apparel refuses to provide cold purified drinking water.

Bathrooms Locked: The workers are not allowed to get up or move from their work sites. The bathrooms are locked from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., and again from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00. Workers need permission to use the bathroom, which is limited to one visit per morning shift and one during the afternoon shift. The workers report that the bathrooms are filthy.


5 Cents to Sew Kathie Lee Pants:

The women earn just 15 cents for every pair of $16.96 Kathie Lee pants they sew. That means that wages amount to only 9/10 of one percent of the retail price of the garment.

(62 workers on a production line have a daily production quota of sewing 2,000 pairs of Kathie Lee pants each 8-hour shift. 62 workers x $4.79 = 296.98 / 2,000 x $16.96 = $33,920 / 33,920 ) 296.98 = .0087553 / or 9/10 of one percent x $16.96 = 15 cents)


Where a Worker Spends Money:

  • Rent for two small rooms costs $57.07 per month, or $1.88 a day.
  • The round trip bus to work costs 46 cents.
  • A modest lunch is $1.37.

At the end of the day sewing Kathie Lee garments a worker is left with just $1.08, which is not even enough to purchase supper for a small family. Unable to afford milk, the workers' children are raised on coffee and lemonade.




Pressure and Screaming to Go Faster:

There is constant pressure to work faster and to meet production goals of sewing 100-150 pieces an hour. Mr. Lee, the production supervisor, curses and screams at the women to go faster. Some workers have been hit. For talking back to a supervisor the women are locked in isolation in a room. Most cannot reach their daily production quota and if they do the company arbitrarily raises the goal the next day.

Denied Access to Health Care:

Despite the fact that money is deducted from the workers' pay, Caribbean Apparel management routinely prohibits the workers access to the Social Security Health Care Clinic. Nor does the company allow sick days. If a worker misses a day, even with written confirmation from a doctor that she or her child was very sick, she will still be punished and fined two or three days pay.

Fear and Repression—There are No Rights at Caribbean Apparel

Fear and repression permeate the factory. The workers have no rights. Everyone knows that they can be illegally fired, at any time, for being unable to work overtime, for needing to take a sick day, for questioning factory conditions or pay, for talking back to a supervisor, or for attempting to learn and defend their basic human and worker rights.

If the workers are seen meeting together, they can be fired. If the workers are seen discussing factory conditions with independent human rights organizations they will be fired. If workers are suspected of organizing a union they will be fired and blacklisted.

Fired for Organizing:

Six workers have been illegally fired beginning in August for daring to organize a union at Caribbean Apparel. All six workers were elected officials of the new union.


List of Fired Workers

  • Blanca Ruth Palacios
  • Lorena del Carmen Herrnandez Moran
  • Oscar Humberto Guevara
  • Dalila Aracely Corona
  • Norma Aracely Padilla
  • Jose Martin Duenas

Death Threat:

In September, Jiovanni Fuentes, a union organizer assisting the workers at Caribbean Apparel, received a death threat from the company. He was told that he and his friends should leave the work or they would be killed. He was told that he was dealing with the Mafia, and in El Salvador it costs less than $15 to have someone killed.



Kathie Lee/Wal-Mart Sweatshop in Mexico

Ho Lee Modas de Mexico
Puebla, Mexico

* 550 workers
* The Ho Lee factory sews women's blazers, pants and blouses
* Wal-Mart and other labels. Kathie Lee garments have been sewn there.

Sweatshop conditions:

  • Forced Overtime: 12 ½ to 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week
    • Monday to Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
    • Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • There is one 40-minute break in the day for lunch.
  • The workers are at the factory between 67 and 79 hours a week.
  • New Employees are forced to take a mandatory pregnancy test.
  • For a 48-hour week the workers earn $29.57 or 61 cents an hour which is well below a subsistence wage.
  • Workers are searched on the way in and out of the factory.
  • The supervisors yell and scream at the women to work faster.
  • Bathrooms are filthy and lack toilet seats or paper. The workers have to manually flush the toilet using buckets of water. Some of the toilets lack lighting.
  • 14-15-16 year old minors have been employed in the plants.
  • Public access to the plant is prohibited by several heavily armed guards.




Kathie Lee/Wal-Mart Sweatshop in Guatemala

San Lucas, S.A.

Santiago, Sacatepequez, Guatemala

* 1,500 workers
* The San Lucas factory sews Kathie Lee jackets and dresses.

Sweatshop conditions:

  • Forced Overtime: 11 to 14 ½ hour shifts, 6 days a week
    • Monday to Saturday: 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., sometimes they work until 10:00 p.m.
  • The workers are at the factory between 66 and 80 hours a week.
  • Refusal to work overtime is punished with an 8-day suspension without pay. The second or third time this "offense" occurs, the worker is fired.
  • Below Subsistence Wages: For 44 regular hours, the pay is $28.57, or 65 cents an hour. This does not meet subsistence needs.
  • Armed security guards control access to the toilets, and check the amount of time the women spend in the bathroom, hurrying them up if they think they are spending too much time.
  • Public access to the plant is prohibited by several heavily armed guards.




Read the testimony of  Wendy Diaz, a former employee of a Kathie Lee/Wal-mart sweatshop in Honduras.

Read the testimonry of Blanca Ruth Palacios, General Secretary of the union local formed at Caribbean Apparel.

Read the testimony of Jiovanni Fuentes, Coordinator of the Commission of the Maquila Federation of Independent Unions and Associations of El Salvador (FEASIES).

Testimony of Charles Kernaghan, of the National Labor Committee, at the Democratic Policy Committee Congressional Hearings chaired by The Honorable George Miller.



News, updates and reports about Kathie Lee sweatshops