September, 17 1998 |  Share

Liz Claiborne / Sweatshop Production in El Salvador

Upscale Liz Claiborne suit and sport jackets (selling for $194), pants and skirts are being sewn under contract at Doall factories in El Salvador.

Doall Enterprises, S.A. de C.V.
El Salvador

Doall #1, Progreso Free Trade Zone
Doall #2 and #3, San Marcos Free Trade Zone

Doall is a Korean-owned company, with at least three maquila--or, assembly--factories in El Salvador, all of which sew clothing under contract for Liz Claiborne. Over 2,500 mostly young women work in Doall's three plants, two of which are located in the San Marcos Free Trade Zone, with the other in the Progreso Industrial Park. Other major labels sewn by Doall include Leslie Fay, Chaus and Ann Taylor.

Doall is a longstanding Liz Claiborne contractor, sewing Liz Claiborne garments since 1992.

No visitors are allowed at the Doall factories, which operate behind locked metal gates, barbed wire and heavily armed guards.

In August and September 1998, the National Labor Committee arranged several meetings in safe locations with Doall workers, who provided the following information on factory conditions. The workers were very afraid, explaining they could be fired for speaking to us. The National Labor Committee has been tracking conditions at Doall since 1995, at which point we informed Liz Claiborne of the numerous serious violations. The company took no real action.

The latest shipping records available show Doall sending 5,859 jackets and skirts to Liz Claiborne in California on July 2, 1998.

In Macy's in New York City, 100 percent of Liz Claiborne's men's sport coats were made in El Salvador, while the Liz Claiborne store on Fifth Avenue carries three styles of women's suits, skirts and pants made in El Salvador.

Doall Factory Conditions (Summary)

Systematic and widespread violation of basic human and worker rights.
  • 13-to-15-hour workshifts; 85-to-92-hour work weeks.
  • Forced Overtime--often from 6:45 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.--mandatory all-night shifts; working seven days a week. Typically, one worker had just three days off in a nine-month period. Workers complain that their feet swell up due to the excessively long hours--most take a "No Doze" stimulant to stay awake.
  • 60-cent-an-hour wages: The 60-cent-an-hour wage is well below subsistence levels, meeting only 51 percent of the basic basket of goods necessary to survive in relative poverty, and only 27 percent of what it would cost to live poorly, but with a modicum of decency (though, of course, without luxuries or savings.)
  • Pregnancy Tests--New workers are tested and fired if they are pregnant.
  • Bathroom visits are strictly monitored, and limited to two uses per day.
  • No sick days are given, even to a mother whose child is seriously ill. Permission to use the Social Security health clinic is almost never granted.
  • High production goals, which are arbitrarily raised; pressure to meet those goals. Supervisors yell and curse at the workers.
  • Fear and intimidation--At the first sign of a grievance the leaders are fired. At the mere hint of a union, those suspected are immediately, and illegally, fired.
  • Eighteen workers were fired on August 5 for daring to protest being forced to work overtime on a major national holiday--also, Doall suspected these workers might attempt to organize a union.
  • At least five organizing drives at Doall factories have been crushed with illegal firings.
  • No worker had heard of the Liz Claiborne Code of Conduct--and certainly no explanation was ever given to the workers regarding their basic rights that the code is supposed to guarantee. Visits by North American company representatives are staged events. The factory is cleaned ahead of time. Workers are pre-chosen by Doall managers to speak with the North Americans. No attempt has ever been made to meet with workers in a safe location, where they would be free to speak.
  • Enormous Exploitation--The young Salvadoran women at Doall are paid just 84 cents for every $194 Liz Claiborne jacket they sew! The sewers wages equal just 4/10ths of 1 percent of the sales price of the Liz Claiborne jacket.

Doall Factory Conditions / Liz Claiborne, El Salvador

Hours / Forced Overtime:

  • 13-to-15-hour shifts
  • Seven-day work week
  • 85 to 92 hours a week
All overtime at Doall is obligatory

Failure to remain for overtime results in a one or two-day suspension without pay, and the loss of the "attendance bonus" or seventh day's pay--resulting in a loss of up to three days' desperately needed wages. After two or three such punishments, the worker is illegally fired.

A Seven-Day Work Week: Monday through Sunday

  • Monday through Friday: 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 or 8:00 or 10:30 p.m.
  • Three days a week several departments are forced to work until 10:30 p.m. This always includes the pressing, packing, cleaning, inspection and hand sewing departments, totaling over 100 workers. Depending upon the order--or label--which is being rushed, specific production lines will also be required to stay.
  • Saturday--6:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.--However, it is not uncommon for the Doall employees to be forced to work right through Saturday night, only getting out at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning--after a more than 22-hour shift. This was the case in August 1998.
  • Sunday--6:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • This means the workers are at the Doall factory between 85 and 93 hours a week.
  • Officially, the workday begins at 7:00 a.m., but Doall requires the women to be at their work stations at 6:45 a.m. for a production meeting--for which they are not paid.
  • There is a one-hour lunch break from noon to 1:00 p.m. During rush periods Doall management cuts this back to just half an hour. The workers say they are forced to "give the company a gift."
  • There are no other breaks during the day until the supper break from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. (The company gives the workers 10 colones--$1.14--to purchase a sandwich of beans, cheese and jam.) This means that actual time worked each week would be between 76 and 84 hours.
  • Regarding obligatory overtime, Doall managers simply tell the workers, 'we have to get a shipment out on this date, and if we miss it, the company will be fined thousands of dollars--so we have to stay to finish it.'
  • Between April and December 1997, one Doall worker we interviewed had only had three days off during the entire nine-month period!
  • Doall workers frequently bring bags to work with changes of clothing when they know they will be working to 10:30 p.m. Workers who live far from the factory are housed five to a hotel room.
  • Working these long hours, many of the women, especially in the pressing and cleaning departments where they are standing all day, have problems with their feet swelling up. They are given pills, but they have not helped.
  • Many of the workers take a form of "No Doze" (Sin Sueño) which they either purchase or are given by the supervisors, in order to stay awake during these long hours.


  • 60 cents an hour
  • Below subsistence--meeting only half the cost necessary to live in relative poverty, and only 27 percent of the cost to live poorly, but with decency.

The base wage at Doall is 60 cents an hour.
  • 60¢ an hour (5.25 colones)
  • $4.79 a day (42 colones)
  • $33.56 a week (294 colones--that is, if the 7th day attendance bonus is paid)
  • $145.43 per month (1,274 colones)
  • $1,745.20 per year (15,280 colones)
    (Note: There are 8.76 colones to $1.00 U.S.)
No one can live on these wages, which are well below subsistence levels.

A very respected Salvadoran non-governmental research organization, the National Foundation for Development, FUNDE (Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo) has extensively documented this.

FUNDE establishes that the Basic Basket of Necessities, including the food, goods and services required by the average sized Salvadoran family (4.3 people) to survive in "relative poverty" would cost $287.21 (2,516 colones) per month. This means that the base wage at Doall meets only 51 percent of a family's basic survival needs. ($145.45 ÷ $287.21 = .5063).

In order for a family to live poorly, but with a modicum of decency--though of course without luxuries or savings--FUNDE documents that a family would need to spend $540.98 (4,739 colones) on basic necessities each month. So the base wage at Doall meets only 27 percent of the cost to live poorly, but with dignity ($145.45 ÷ $540.98 = .2688).


It is common sense and easily demonstrated that the wages paid to the Doall workers for sewing Liz Claiborne garments are well below subsistence levels.

Just to get back and forth to work each day costs 80 cents (7 colones), while a very modest breakfast and lunch--chili, beans, rice and tortillas--costs 91 cents (8 colones) and $1.37 (12 colones). So getting to work and surviving costs $3.08, leaving only $1.71 remaining out of your daily pay of $4.79. Rent for two small rooms costs $80 a month (700 colones) which amounts to $2.63 per day, which leaves the workers with less than nothing to survive on. Even the very cheapest daycare we heard of in El Salvador cost 68 cents a day. What about water, utilities, clothing, food, school and medical needs for the workers families?

Many of the women workers at Doall told us they and their children go to bed hungry at night, often without eating. Or, if they can scrape together 28 cents, they can make a supper of eggs and tortillas. Meat is very, very rare.

Women sewing $194 Liz Claiborne jackets for 12 hours a day cannot afford even milk for their children, or vitamins. Nor can they afford to purchase new clothing-- "not even a piece of underwear" they told us. All they can buy for themselves and their children is second hand articles.

Enormous Exploitation

    Women paid just 84 cents for every $194 Liz Claiborne jacket they sew. Their wages amount to only 4/10ths of one percent of the $194 sales price!
Sixty workers on a production line have a daily quota of sewing 600 Liz Claiborne jackets. Working an 11 hour shift (from 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with an hour for lunch) a sewing operator at Doall earns $8.40. (Eight hours of regular time at 60 cents--$4.80--and three hours overtime at $1.20--$3.60; $4.80 + $3.60 = $8.40.)

The combined daily wages for all 60 sewers on the production line come to $504 (60 x $8.40 = $504.) These 60 sewers have a set quota and must complete 600 Liz Claiborne jackets a day, which sell in the United States for $194. In one day, the production line produces $116,400 worth of clothing for Liz Claiborne (600 x $194 = $116,400.)

So the actual sewing cost in the Liz Claiborne jacket is just 4/10ths of one percent of the retail price, or just 84 cents. ($504 ÷ $116,400 = .0043298; .0043298 x $194 = $.84)

The women in El Salvador earn just 84 cents for every $194 Liz Claiborne jacket they sew!

Could Liz Claiborne and its contractor in El Salvador afford to pay a higher wage, a living wage? Very easily.

According to FUNDE, the respected Salvadoran research NGO, a worker would need to earn $1.18 an hour in order to climb out of misery and into "relative poverty.".

Could Liz Claiborne afford to pay $1.18 an hour to the women in El Salvador sewing its upscale clothing?

If they did so, the same 60 sewers on the production line would now earn $16.57 for the 11-hour shift, and the combined daily payroll for all the workers would be $994.31.

This means that there would now be $1.66 of labor cost to sew each $194 Liz Claiborne jacket, which still comes to only 9/10ths of one percent of the sales price.

If Liz Claiborne paid the low, but at least subsistence wage of $1.18 an hour, Liz Claiborne and its contractor Doall would still control 99.1 percent of the sales price of the jacket. How could they not make their profit by holding only $192.34 out of the $194 sales price? It makes no sense, other than that greed is driving Liz Claiborne and Doall, since paying $1.18 an hour would barely put a dent in their profits.

The 60-cent-an-hour wage at the Doall factory equals just seven percent of the average U.S. apparel wage of $8.42 an hour. ($.60 ÷ $8.42 = 0.07125). Garment workers' wages in the U.S. are 14 times higher than in El Salvador.

In the United States, 10 percent of the sales price of the garment accounts for labor cost. If the $194 Liz Claiborne jacket was made in the U.S., the labor could would be $19.40. By moving production offshore, Liz Claiborne has nearly removed the cost of labor from the garment, from 10 percent down to 4/10ths of one percent, or just 84 cents.

Despite the fact that Liz Claiborne's $2.4 billion annual sales are nearly 40 percent greater than the entire 1.75 billion budget of the government of El Salvador, Liz Claiborne and its contractor in El Salvador pay no taxes whatsoever--no corporate, income, tariff or even sales tax. It is as if El Salvador is forced to subsidize the giant Liz Claiborne Company.

Fear, Intimidation and Firings

    Every attempt by the workers to organize to defend their rights has been crushed with illegal firings.
On Wednesday, August 5, 18 workers were fired at Doall for daring to protest against being forced to work overtime on the following day, which was an important national holiday celebrating El Salvador's patron saint. There were also "rumors" that a union was being organized, so Doall management acted immediately to fire any suspected "ring leaders" or sympathizers. Every worker we spoke with reported that Doall would never accept a union and would immediately, and illegally, fire anyone they suspected of organizing.

In fact, at least five organizing attempts at Doall factories have been crushed over the years.

The workers are afraid and vulnerable. They feel the Ministry of Labor has done nothing to protect their basic legal rights, and can only conclude that Doall pays off the Labor inspectors.

Ernesto Aguilar, a San Marcos Free Trade Zone officer, is in charge of keeping the unions out of the free trade zone.

(The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is flagrantly and systematically violated in El Salvador. El Salvador is now the eighth largest exporter worldwide of apparel to the United States. There are more than 60,000, mostly young women workers in El Salvador, sewing garments for the U.S. market. Yet there is not one single functioning union with a contract in the entire industry.)


  • Pregnancy tests: Doall administers pregnancy tests to new workers. Nurses take blood and urine samples from the women, who are immediately fired if they test positive during a three-month "trial period."
  • Monitoring bathroom Visits: On average, there are five bathrooms for the women in each factory, which the workers say are very dirty. Supervisors closely monitor the number and duration of bathroom visits, which are limited to one or two uses per shift.
  • Heat and dust: The workers say the plants are extremely hot--"steaming"--and that the factory air is heavy with dust, lint emitted from the cloth, which causes respiratory problems, rashes and skin allergies. They say the ventilation is poor.
  • Denial of health care: Every worker confirms that Doall does not allow absences for any reason, even if a woman is sick or has a seriously ill infant at home. Also, when a worker seeks permission to visit the Social Security health clinic--which they must pay for through deductions in their wages--the request is almost always denied. If the worker is so sick that she goes to the clinic without permission, she is docked two days' pay. Even pregnant women are denied access to the clinic.
  • Cheated on vacation time: Many workers told us they were not given their full, legally mandated vacation period.
  • Unrealistic production quotas: Doall sets the production quota very high, and when you reach the quota, the company arbitrarily raises it the next day. There is constant pressure on the workers to go faster, to meet the production goals. It is not uncommon for the supervisors to scream and curse at the sewing operators, "faster, you sons of whores." (Incentives are paid only to the supervisors, which guarantees that they will place enormous constant pressure on the workers to make their daily production quotas.)

No one had heard of the Liz Claiborne Code of Conduct:

Only one worker we spoke with had ever seen the Liz Claiborne Code of Conduct. A badly xeroxed copy was hung in one of the bathrooms, but it soon disappeared. None of the workers were familiar with the code. No explanation had ever been given to the Doall workers regarding the content, or intent, of the Liz Claiborne Code--which is supposed to guarantee the human and worker rights of anyone producing Liz Claiborne products around the world. At Doall, Liz Claiborne's Code of Conduct is a sham.

All North American company representatives' visits to Doall are known in advance. The factory is cleaned, the bathrooms painted. The workers are told to wear their good clothes and shoes--e.g. no flip flops. Workers who might be called to speak with the North Americans are chosen in advance by Doall staff. Once in the factory, Doall's managers stay with the American visitors at all times, never leaving their side. The North Americans never speak randomly with the workers, and certainly have never even proposed meeting with the workers in a safe location, away from the plant and the watchful eyes of the Doall managers.

Liz Claiborne's Long Standing Relationship with Doall Dates back to 1992

The Liz Claiborne Company's relationship with Doall is no fly-by-night arrangement, no Johnny-come-lately contractor, not the single "bad apple" that has temporarily slipped through Liz Claiborne's screening process, but would soon be brought in line with Liz Claiborne's Code of Conduct.

Liz Claiborne has been producing clothing at Doall since July 1992. In fact, the relationship was so close that it was Liz Claiborne that supplied Doall's first factory with all its sewing machines. A Liz Claiborne quality control officer was stationed full time at the Doall plant. Right through 1995, Liz Claiborne accounted for 100 percent of Doall's production. Doall and Liz Claiborne were among the largest apparel exporters in Central America.

On March 22, 1996, the National Labor Committee wrote to Liz Claiborne's vice president and general counsel, Roberta Karp, alerting the company to serious, ongoing human and worker rights violations at Doall:

    At the Doall and Lido plants in the Progreso free trade zone, there are numerous, serious--and easily documented--human rights violations taking place. Overtime is excessive and obligatory, with normal daily workshifts extending to twelve hours, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. But when orders are urgent, it is not uncommon for Doall management to require the employees to work two 16-hour shifts each week. On Saturdays, the shift is from 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., which means the work week can vary between 69 and 77 hours.

    Many of the workers at Doall are 15 and 16-year old minors. A very serious problem is that these young teenagers are also forced to work these long overtime hours and are prohibited from attending night school to complete their primary or secondary school educations. In El Salvador as in Honduras, it is illegal for a fifteen-year old to work more than six hours a day, or to work at night or on the weekends.

    Doall workers testify to being screamed at, slapped, shoved and having the garments they are working on thrown in their faces by supervisors dissatisfied with their work. Talking during working hours is prohibited. Also, the workers need permission to use the bathroom, which is limited to two visits a day.

    The most disturbing aspect of Doall is the fear. Armed guards are very visible. Every worker knows, for instance, that even being seen speaking with human rights representatives will get them fired. The mere rumor that any worker is interested in organizing a union will also lead to her immediate--and illegal--firing, without the required severance benefits.

    In Doall, the Liz Claiborne code of conduct is not posted. The workers have never even heard of it.

In October 1995, and again in February 1996, Bob Herbert in the New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation both exposed and documented abusive conditions at Doall, including forced overtime, physical abuse, firing of pregnant women, starvation wages, and the complete denial of the workers' legal right to freedom of association.

Given this history, it is impossible to conclude otherwise--the Liz Claiborne Company was well aware of the violations at Doall, but failed to act to implement its own Code of Conduct or to bring Doall into compliance with Salvadoran labor law.

For the past two years, while the Liz Claiborne Company co-chaired the White House Task Force/Apparel Industry Partnership, the gross human rights violations at Doall persisted unabated.

Throughout this period, the Liz Claiborne company has refused to open its contractor's plants in El Salvador to serious independent inspection by respected Salvadoran religious, human and labor rights and women's non-governmental organizations, such as the Jesuit University's Human Rights Department and the Catholic Archdiocese Human Rights office, Tutela Legal. The Doall factories continue to operate hidden behind locked gates, barbed wire and armed guards.

What Can Liz Claiborne do to Respect Human Rights?

The ongoing abuses at Doall concretely demonstrate the need for full public corporate disclosure. The American people have the right to know in which countries and factories, under what human rights conditions and at what wages the products we purchase are made.

Liz Claiborne could prove it has nothing to hide from the American people by immediately releasing to the public the list and addresses of the factories Liz Claiborne uses around the world. This would take these factories out from behind the veil of secrecy and bring them into the light of day, where it is more difficult to operate sweatshops and abuse teenaged workers.

Also, Liz Claiborne should be serious about implementing a living wage policy, even if that subsistence wage is as low as $1.18 an hour in El Salvador.

Liz Claiborne could easily afford to do the right thing, but do they have the will?

Liz Claiborne should not pull out of El Salvador. That would be no answer, rather they should stay to fix the problems and end the human rights abuses. Cutting and running would be the worst thing Liz Claiborne could do, since the women would be fired and dumped on the street with nothing, simply for speaking the truth. Liz Claiborne should immediately, clearly and strongly inform Doall that Liz Claiborne demands that all its contractors strictly adhere to all Salvadoran laws, and to all internationally recognized human and worker rights.

Some Relevant Data:

Liz Claiborne manufactures clothing in at least 28 countries around the world, including China, the Northern Mariana Islands, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Guatemala, Peru, and other countries known for their human and worker rights abuses.

El Salvador's maquila, or assembly, exports to the United States are booming. Between 1995 and 1997, El Salvador's apparel exports to the U.S. grew 70 percent from $657.8 million to $1.052 billion. In the first six months of 1998, El Salvador's apparel exports are up 23.33 percent over last year. There are now more than 60,000 mostly young women workers sewing apparel for the U.S. market. This year, American companies will import 288 million garments made in El Salvador. The only things that are not booming in El Salvador are worker rights, and a fair wage. There is not one functioning union with a contract in the entire industry, and the 60 cent-an-hour wage provides only 27 percent of what it would cost to climb out of misery and into poverty.

Meanwhile, in August 1998, another 18,000 U.S. apparel workers lost their jobs. In the last year 68,000 garment jobs have left the U.S.