Reports

June, 07 2003 |  Share

School Uniforms Made in El Salvador: The Case of Elder Manufacturing

 

Disclosure of factory location and pressure from
U.S. high schools leads to significant improvements

Quality factory gate

 

 Quality factory gate

 

Merely knowing the name and address of the factory and then asking serious questions of the U.S. retailer can lead to significant improvements in working conditions and respect for human rights.

Such is the case with the St. Louis-based Elder Manufacturing Company, which wholly owns the Quality factory in El Salvador, where school uniforms are sewn for export to the U.S.  Knowing the name and address of the factory is critical, in that it opens the possibility that factory conditions may be independently investigated by local human and labor rights organizations.  Disclosure, combined with the fact that serious questions were being directed to Elder Manufacturing by schools in Texas, Detroit, Newark and Buffalo were enough to lead to some significant improvements in working conditions.

Quality is now a better-than-average factory. 

The Quality factory is still far from perfect, but it is moving in the right direction.  Pregnancy testing has been ended at Quality. There is no physical abuse.  Overtime work is by-and-large voluntary.  Most workers are paid a little above the minimum wage.  "Older" women 35 to 40 years of age are not discriminated against, as is typical in other factories.  Workers receive their legal holidays and vacation.  Their Christmas bonus is paid at the end of the year.  There is music in the factory, which the workers like.  Because conditions at Quality are better than average, there is not much turnover, and most workers appear to have been at the factory for at least two years, some up to six.

There is still need for improvement.

Fully recognizing the above-mentioned improvements, there is still need for further dialogue and reform.  The most fundamental of the U.N./International Labor Organization's worker rights standards—freedom of association and the right to organize—are routinely and systematically violated at Quality.  Also, even though the wages at Quality are above the legal minimum wage, they are still far below subsistence levels.  Given that the direct labor cost to sew a school uniform shirt is just nine cents, there appears to be adequate room to improve wages.  Schools may want to enter into a serious dialogue with the Elder company.  Some schools may even be willing to pay an extra 50 cents to $1.00 per garment if that means the women workers were able to climb out of abject poverty, so that they and their families can live with some decency.

 

Quality S.A. de C.V.

Esquina al Matazono y Calle a la Pedrera

Soyapango, San Salvador

El Salvador

Phone:  (503) 294-4402;  294-4501

Fax:      (503) 294-0479

Email:   qualisa@sal.qbm.net

Ownership:

Ron Sher, President & CEO

Elder Manufacturing Company

12747 Olive Blvd.

St. Louis, MO 63141-6269  U.S.A.

Elder Manufacturing had revenues of $250 million in 2002, almost exclusively from the sale of school uniforms. In the single month of March 2003, the Quality factory in El Salvador shipped over $897,000-worth of school uniforms to its parent company, Elder.


  • Began operating: April 1992
  • General Manager: Lorena Bermudez
  • Chief of Human Resources: Lilian Zelaya
  • Legal Represenative: Luis Arturo Anleu Benavides (who is also vice-president of the Salvadoran Sewing Industry Association, ASIC—which has a longstanding history of discrimination against unions and opposition to any minimum wage increase.)
    • Number of Workers: Approximately 350, of whom 80 percent are women.
    • Production: School uniforms—primarily woven and knit shirts and blouses. 

    In March of 2003, production lines 1, 2 and 3, with frequent help from lines 7 and 8, were sewing school uniform shirts in white, beige, light blue and light brown, which were shipped to Elder Manufacturing in the U.S.

    Summary of Conditions
    • Daily 10-hour shift Monday through Thursday, and a 9-hour shift on Friday.
    • Since the sewing operators are paid according to a piece rate system—the more they sew the more they earn—as many as half the women begin working an hour earlier and leave an hour later.  Many work through their morning break and part of lunch as well.  These workers could be at the factory 57 hours a week.
    • The women report being exhausted at the end of their shift from the high production goals, with back pain and sore eyes.
    • Overtime, which is by-and-large voluntary, is paid according to the standard piece rate system, with no additional premium.
    • The base wage appears to range from 60 cents an hour—the legal minimum wage—to 74 cents an hour.  (However, the workers are uncertain of their hourly wages since they receive no pay stub or written record of their pay.)
    • Counting all incentives—such as Seventh Day's pay—and assuming production goals are met, the sewers can earn $40.23 to $51.77 a week.
    • Though above the minimum wage, these weekly earnings fall below subsistence levels.  For example, the government of El Salvador states that a family would need to earn at least $66.46 a week to climb out of "abject poverty" and into "relative poverty."  A living wage for a family would be approximately $124.62 a week. 
    • Workers are paid a piece rate of 3/10ths to 4/10ths of a cent for each operation they complete.  Just to earn the minimum daily wage of $4.80, a woman would need to complete at least 1,200 operations in nine hours—or 133 operations an hour.
    • The direct labor cost to sew each school uniform shirt is just nine cents.
    • The bathrooms are clean but lack toilet paper, soap and towels.  Workers must ask permission to use the toilet.
    • Though there are six ventilators, the workers describe the factory as very hot, with temperatures reaching over 95 degrees in the summer. 
    • There is no daycare center.
    • The workers do receive Social Security health insurance and there is a nurse and part-time doctor at the factory.
    • There is no age discrimination against "older" women, which is rare in El Salvador.  Some sewers in Quality are 45 years old.
    • Elder Manufacturing's Code of Conduct is posted in the factory.  But the workers have no clear concept of what it means.
    • Freedom of association and the right to organize are totally denied.  Workers are even threatened not to speak with strangers.  Security guards monitor the women outside the factory during their lunch breaks.  Any attempt to organize will be met with immediate firing.
    U.S. Buyers visit the Quality plant on May 21, 2003:

    On May 21, three representatives of the Houston-based Parker School Uniforms company paid an announced visit to the Quality factory in El Salvador.  Quality provides school uniforms to Parker. 

     

    Parker's representatives met with management and then toured the factory, inspecting each production line and also checking the bathrooms.  Apparently they made no attempt to speak with any of the workers.

    Mac Shuford, President
    Parker School Uniforms
    2315 Karbach
    Houston, TX 77092

    Phone: (713) 957-1511 / (713) 957-1598

    How a factory like Quality prepares for such an "inspection":
    • In preparation for the U.S. company representatives' visit, supervisors instructed workers to clean their machines as well as the area around their work stations, leaving no scraps of cloth on the floor.
    • The workers were amazed when on Friday, May 9—two weeks before the planned visit—in honor of Mothers Day, the company held a party from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. with disco music and a free raffle.  Nothing like this had ever happened before and the workers wondered why management was "behaving so nicely."  Everyone was given a red rose when they entered work.  A free lunch was served of rice, chicken and salad.  Thermoses, a microwave oven, a 20-inch TV, a CD player and a dining table were given away as prizes.  (However, even for this party, the women had to work through half their lunch periods, 30 minutes each day Monday, May 5 through Thursday, May 8 in order to replace the two hours or so lost due to the party.)
    • New lunch tables appeared in the cafeteria.
    • In preparation for the visit, a small abandoned and dirty room was hurriedly cleaned and Disney-like characters were painted on the walls to make it appear as a functioning daycare center.  (However, it was not completed or in use by the time of the visit.)
    • On Tuesday, May 20, the day before the visit—as if to encourage it—there was an announcement over the factory's public address system that the workers should feel free to hold religious meetings during their lunch hour.  (Management must have felt that this was important given that the factory was producing many uniforms for Catholic schools.)  Years ago, there had been small evangelical groups within the factory that did stage prayer meetings during the lunch hour.
    • The workers were told that Quality had received more contracts and that soon another sewing line would be added at the factory, requiring at least 30 new workers.  This made the women extremely happy, knowing that their jobs were safe and there would be plenty of work in the future.  (Quality management however, also let it be known that they would not accept applications from anyone who had ever worked in a factory where there was a union.  Quality always has and continues to deny freedom of association.)
    Special Circumstances at Quality:
    • After the National Labor Committee released a brief report on the Quality factory in May 2001, the company responded by surrounding the factory with a 9-foot cement slab wall, topped with razor wire.

     

    cement wall surrounding Quality factory

     

    • Supervisors became much more guarded with the labels produced at the factory.  Labels are now counted out when given to the workers, who were told that if any labels are missing they will be fired.  (This of course is one way to try to guard against any outside knowledge of what is being produced in the factory.)
    • Management warned the workers against speaking with any outsiders, especially foreigners.  During lunch hour, when many workers take their lunch on the street outside the factory, two security guards are posted to keep an eye on the women, to track their movements and to see who they speak with.  (Quality is on a street where there is not a lot of traffic, so the presence of the security guards makes it nearly impossible for any stranger—such as a human rights activist—to approach the women during lunch.)  One supervisor recently told a group of workers that management had instructed her to investigate the presence of "spies" who were coming to "speak with the workers to see what is going on inside and then going abroad to speak against the factory."  The workers know they are being watched, and that if they are suspected of passing information about factory conditions to the outside, they will be fired.

    Still, it is important to point out that the workers are quite clear that they like working at Quality and that it is a better-than-average factory.  It is much better than many of the abusive plants in the nearby free trade zones.  At Quality, the supervisors do not shout at the workers, and they have music for the entire shift.

     

    Quality S.A. de C.V./ Working Conditions

    1)  Hours

    Standard 10-hour daily shift Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with a 9-hour shift on Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Under this schedule the workers are at the factory 49 hours a week, while being paid for 44 hours.

    The workers receive one hour for lunch and there is a 15-minute morning break. 

    Standard shift Monday through Thursday:

    7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (work / 5 hours)

    12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (lunch / 1 hour)

    1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ( work / 4 hours)

    Overtime appears to be largely voluntary:

    However, since the sewing operators are paid according to a piece rate system —where the more you produce, the more you are paid—many workers, perhaps even one half of the sewers, opt to start working an hour earlier, at 6:30 a.m., and to continue an hour later, until 6:30 p.m.

    Also, in the race to earn a little extra money, some workers opt to work through most of their lunch hour, leaving just 20 minutes to eat.  At the extreme these workers could be at the factory 57 hours a week, while being paid for 52 3/4 hours.

    When large orders come in requiring extra work, supervisors will ask 10 or so of the fastest sewers from each production line to remain working an extra two hours each day until the order is completed.  The reason we characterize overtime work as "largely" voluntary is that any worker who declines staying for the overtime on three occasions—for whatever reason—will never again be asked to work extra hours.  This is a terrible punishment for desperately poor workers who depend upon overtime pay for survival.

    Aside from the sewing operators, there are approximately 100 hourly employees working on the cutting, cleaning and packing departments.  It is not uncommon for these workers to be required to put in a 60-hour week: an eleven-hour shift Monday through Thursday, a nine-hour shift on Friday and a seven-hour shift on Saturday.

    2) Wages

    The hourly employees working in the cutting, cleaning and packing departments—who make up about 29 percent of the workforce—receive the minimum base wage of just 60 cents an hour.  Overtime work is paid correctly at a 100 percent premium, or $1.20 an hour.

    The sewing operators, however, are paid according to a piece rate, and do not receive an hourly wage.  Of course, under this system—and the reason it is set up this way—the faster you work, the more you produce, the more you will earn at the end of the day.  The piece rate system is meant to provide an incentive to speed up production.  Also, the sewing operators do not receive any premium for working overtime hours, and are paid according to the standard piece rate, no matter how many hours per day or week they work.

    The sewers at Quality estimate that for every two week pay period their wages range from 700 to 900 colones, or $80.46 to $103.45  This means their weekly earnings would amount to $40.23 to $51.72.

    There is a lot of uncertainty over what the hourly pay rate comes to.  The workers receive their pay every two weeks through direct bank deposits.  They receive no pay stubs and no explanation as to how their wages were calculated.

    If these sewers worked just 44 hours a week, then their base wage would range between 70 and 98 cents an hour.  (In Latin America, workers receive what is known as the Seventh Day's pay—meaning they will be paid for all seven days of the week.  In the case of Quality workers, they receive the minimum wage of $4.80 a day for both Saturday and Sunday.  When this incentive is included, the hourly operators wage at Quality ranges from 91 cents to $1.18 an hour.  The Seventh Day's pay operates as an incentive, since if a worker comes late to work or needs to take a sick day during the week, she will lose this bonus.)

    But this base wage of 70 to 98 cents an hour only holds if the workers are actually working just 44 hours a week.  If they are working extra hours, as most of them do to earn more money, their base wages could fall back to between 60 cents an hour (the legal minimum) and 74 cents an hour.

    Even this 74-cent-an-hour wage is still 23 percent above the country's legal minimum of 60 cents an hour.  So most operators' wages at Quality definitely exceed the minimum wage.

    In this sense, the sewing operators at Quality are fortunate to receive wages which are higher than the average for the maquila garment assembly industry sector in El Salvador.  However, it must be pointed out that these are still wages of extreme poverty.

    3) Quality workers don't even earn enough to climb out of misery and into poverty.

    According to the Salvadoran government, the average size family of 4.3 people would need to earn at least $1.51 per hour, or $66.46 a week in order to escape from "abject poverty" and climb into "relative poverty."

    A wage of relative poverty

    (As defined by the Salvadoran government)

    This wage would meet the most minimal basic needs of a family of 4.3 people:

    • $1.51 per hour
    • $12.08 per day (8 hours)
    • $66.46 per week (44 hours)
    • $288 per month
    • $3,456 per year

    From this one can see that even the $0.91-to-$1.18 hourly sewer's wage at Quality—including all incentives and meeting the high production goals—still falls far short of even providing a worker's family a standard of living at the level of "relative poverty."  The 91-cent-an-hour wage falls 40 percent short of a wage of relative poverty, while the $1.18 wage falls 22 percent short.

    A highly respected local research NGO in El Salvador called FUNDE (Fundacion Nacional Para el Desarrollo) puts a living wage for the average sized family at $540.00 per month, or  $2.83 an hour.  For her family to climb out of extreme poverty and live in relative decency with her family, a worker at Quality would have to earn $124.62 a week.

    A living wage in El Salvador

    (As defined by FUNDE)

    • $2.83 an hour
    • $22.64 a day (8 hours)
    • $124.62 a week (44 hours)
    • $540.00 per month
    • $6,480 per year

    The 91-cent an hour wage at Quality falls 73 percent short of providing a living wage, while the $1.18 falls 58 percent short.

    It is important to note that even this living wage of $2.83 an hour in El Salvador would still amount to just 28 percent of the average apparel wage in the U.S., which is $9.99 according to the U.S. Labor Department.

    In summary, while the wages for the sewing operators at Quality are definitely somewhat above the average in the industry, and represent a very positive step in the right direction, they are still below subsistence levels, trapping the Quality workers and their families in poverty.

    Inflation eats away at workers' wages:

    The discussion regarding payment of subsistence level wages becomes even more urgent in light of a cumulative inflation rates in El Salvador of 14.3 percent over the last three and a half years.  This inflation is eating away at the real purchasing power of the workers' wages.  (In 2000, the inflation rate was 4.3%; in 2001 it was 1.4%; in 2002, 4.97%; and to date in 2003, inflation is averaging 3%.)

    (Note:  In late May 2003, the Salvadoran government raised the legal minimum wage for maquila workers by five percent.  This increased their base wage by three cents an hour, about 23 cents a day.  It is interesting to note that ASIC—the Salvadoran Sewing Industry Association—whose vice president is the legal representative for the Quality factory, fought against even this insignificant increase.  ASIC fought for no increase whatsoever in the minimum wage.)

    4) Quality workers are paid just 9 cents for every school uniform shirt they sew.  What would happen if Quality doubled the workers' wages?  It would add just 9 cents to the direct cost to sew the shirts, but the workers and their families could climb out of misery and into poverty.

    There are 20 to 25 sewing operators on each assembly line at Quality.  Management sets a daily production goal requiring that each line must complete 1,794 shirts in a nine hour shift.  If the workers reach their goal, they will earn $6.15 each, or 68 cents an hour, as a base wage.  So for all 25 workers, earning $6.15 a day, the total payroll for the assembly line comes to $153.75.  From this we can calculate that the direct labor cost involved in sewing each shirt amounts to just 9 cents.  ($6.15 a day x 25 workers = $153.75/1,794 shirts = 9 cents.) 

    What would happen if the base wage of these workers were doubled from 68 cents an hour to $1.36?  Not very much in terms of the direct labor cost to sew the shirt, which would now rise to just 18 cents—adding a mere 9 cents to the cost of the shirt.  Many schools and parents would be more than glad to pay an extra 9 cents if they knew that this would allow the workers and their families to climb out of poverty.

     

    5) The workers are paid according to a piece rate system. Generally, the piece rates range between 3/10ths and 4/10ths of a cent per operation.

    For example, the piece rate for attaching the shirt collar is $.003 for each completed operation.  For each pair of sleeves attached, the piece rate is $.0032.  Each shirt hem that is sewn is paid at a rate of $.003.  The piece rate for attaching pockets is $.0041.

    Just to earn the minimum wage of $4.80 a day, someone earning a piece rate of $.0041 would have to complete 1,170 operations in nine hours, or 130 pieces an hour, which is one every four seconds.

    The women are exhausted.  The pressure to meet excessively high production goals—and thereby earn more money—leaves the women exhausted at the end of the day, with aches and pains in their backs, necks, arms, and shoulders.  Especially when they are sewing striped shirts, and concentrating closely to match patterns, their eyes grow tired and they suffer headaches. 

    6)  Factory Conditions

    Bathrooms:  The bathrooms are clean and in good condition, but lack toilet paper, soap and towels—except when U.S. buyers like representatives from the Parker School Uniform Company come to pay an announced visit.  Also, the workers must ask for and receive permission from their supervisors before they can use the bathroom.

    Water:

    The factory appears to have taken steps to better guarantee the safety of its drinking water.  Quality has three cisterns and filters to purify the water. 

    In January 2002, when the National Labor Committee last tested the drinking water in the factory, a lab analysis showed the water testing positive for pseudomona aeruginosa, which is a species of bacteria often associated with human or animal fecal contamination.  Pseudomona aeruginosa has been linked to infections of the respiratory tract, urinary tract, eye and ear infections and inflammation of the stomach and intestines.  An earlier water test, done in April 2001, showed the presence of fecal coloform—a bacteria found in human fecal matter, for which the acceptable limit is strictly zero.

    For part of May 2003, the Soyapango area where the factory is located was without water, causing the factory to hire tanker trucks to fill the plant's cisterns and water bottles.  It is likely that this temporary water supply would have been contaminated. 

    Ventilation:

    Though there are six ventilators and seven air extractors, the workers still describe the factory shop floor as very hot, with temperatures reaching 95 degrees during the summer months.

    Cafeteria:

    Quality does have a cafeteria which can hold approximately 50 workers.  The factory lunch costs 13 colones, or $1.50.  So most workers prefer to eat outside, where a typical lunch can be purchased for 10 colones, or about $1.15.

    This is another demonstration of just how inadequate the wages are at Quality.  A worker earning a base wage of 70 cents an hour would have to work more than two hours just to eat a very modest lunch.  Lunch alone would consume over 22 percent of her total daily wage.

    Child Care Center:

    There was a dirty, long-abandoned room, about 12 by 18 feet, on the property, which Quality hurriedly tried to clean and paint with Disney-like cartoon characters just prior to the visit by Parker's representatives.  Even so, the "day care center" was not completed at the time of the visit.

    Pregnancy Tests:

    Pregnancy tests have been totally eliminated.  In the majority of factories in El Salvador, new employees must undergo pregnancy tests—which they must pay for themselves—and if they test positive they are immediately fired.

    Vacation:

    As required by law, the workers do receive a 15-day annual vacation with $21.60 in pay.

    Christmas Bonus:

    The workers do receive the Christmas Bonus, or 13th month's pay at the end of the year, which ranges from $48 to $72.  Only workers with more than three years' experience at the factory receive the $72 bonus.

    Christmas Basket and Party:

    This is traditional and nearly every factory in El Salvador complies.  At Quality, the workers each receive a Christmas food basket worth approximately $5.71.  At the end of the year, most factories also organize day trips to the beach, providing food and soda for their workers.

    Basketball Court and Soccer Teams:

    Though Elder Manufacturing has claimed it sponsors both female and male employee soccer teams, there are no such teams existing at Quality.  Quality's "basketball court" is actually a loading dock and has never been used by the workers. 

     

    "basketball court" at Quality factory

     

    Religious Services:

    Elder Manufacturing also claims that "there are two annual in-plant masses" at the Quality factory.  There are no such masses.  However, in 2001, there were some workers belonging to an evangelical movement who did, on their own, hold small prayer meetings during the lunch hour.

    Severance Pay:

    When workers are fired or leave, Quality management refuses to pay them their full legal severance payment—which should be one month's pay for each year worked—and instead bargains with the workers, who never receive more than 75 to 90 percent of what they are owed.

    Health Care:

    By law, Quality's workers must be affiliated with the Salvadoran Social Security healthcare system.  However, the workers report that it is often difficult to receive permission to attend health care appointments during working hours.  The women often have to plead with their supervisors.  Quality also maintains a small clinic, staffed with a full-time nurse and a doctor who is present three hours a day.  Many factories do this in order to avoid the time and money lost by their employees having to take time off to attend their Social Security clinic appointments.

    Code of Conduct:

    There is a small framed Elder Company notice posted near the administration office, but it does not say it is a code of conduct.  The workers do not pay much attention to it, but believe it states that there will be no discrimination against workers, no forced overtime, and that workers must be responsible, etc.  The workers were very vague regarding the contents.

    No Age Discrimination:

    This is truly unique.  At the Quality Factory, there is no discrimination against the "older women."  The sewing operators range in age from 22 to 45 years old.  In most factories, women over 30 to 40 years of age are routinely harassed, discriminated against, and abused until they quit rather than face the constant torture and humiliation.  The companies want to replace the older women—who they believe are worn out—with another crop of young teenagers.  

    Freedom of Association: 

    There is no freedom of association at the Quality Factory.  The most fundamental of the core UN/ILO internationally recognized worker rights — freedom of association and the right to organize—are routinely and systematically violated at the Quality factory.

    Management constantly warns the workers against any attempt to organize a union at the plant.  Anyone even suspected of speaking well about unions is called to the office and threatened that any attempt to organize will immediately be met with the firing of those involved.

    Indeed, Quality's workers are even prohibited from speaking with outsiders, and as we have pointed out, two security guards are assigned to watch the women as they take their lunch outside the factory to see that they are not meeting or speaking with any strangers.  Management is terrified that the workers will discuss factory conditions with local human rights or labor advocates.

    By corporate policy, no one will even be considered for employment at Quality if in the past they have worked in a factory which had a union.  All hiring at Quality is tightly controlled.  Management encourages its employees to recommend friends or family members when new positions become available at the factory.  There is much that is positive about this, but there is also another side.  The worker who recommended the new hire is expected to keep that person in line and out of trouble—e.g. talking about unions—or else they could both lose their jobs.

    Management constantly tells the workers to think carefully about how plants where unions were organized soon closed, putting everyone out on the street without a job.  Supervisors list such factories:  Gabo, Doall, Tainan, and most recently, Hanchang.

    The Quality workers are not stupid.  They know that they do not have the right to organize.  They also know they are surrounded by massive un- and under-employment, and that if they lose their jobs they will be in desperate shape.  They have no savings.  With their below-subsistence level wages, they live from hand to mouth, from day to day.  Many are single mothers.  Under these conditions you have no choice but to keep quiet and keep your job.

    The serious lack of even minimal worker rights protections in El Salvador is no secret.  A just-released Human Rights Watch report (May 2003) concluded that there exists in El Salvador "A climate in which workers' human rights are systematically violated and workers have little hope for legal redress."  This is especially the case with the right to organize.  There are 247 maquila factories in El Salvador, where 90,000 mostly young women workers sew hundreds of millions of garments a year for export to the U.S.  Yet there is not one single union with a contract in the entire export garment industry.

    El Salvador's Failure to Protect Workers' Human Rights: Implications for CAFTA
    Preliminary Findings of Human Rights Watch Research, May, 2003

    "Many obstacles prevent workers in El Salvador from exercising their rights. The obstacles range from inadequate legal protections for workers' human rights, to cumbersome and lengthy labor court procedures, to the failure of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (Ministry of Labor) to enforce labor laws with impartiality. The cumulative effect of these impediments has created a climate in which workers' human rights are systematically violated and workers have little hope for legal redress.

    "Workers' human rights protections enshrined in El Salvador's Constitution and Labor Code have major loopholes that allow employers to circumvent them. The Ministry of Labor does not effectively enforce even these inadequate protections. Instead, it fails to follow legally mandated inspection procedures, regularly turns a blind eye to employer anti-union conduct, obstructs workers' ability to register unions, and grants illegal employer requests to the detriment of workers. Labor courts impose often insurmountable procedural requirements and may be slow to enforce judgments in workers' favor.

    "Workers in El Salvador will not fully enjoy their internationally recognized human rights unless a multifaceted strategy of reform is adopted. The strategy must eliminate the obstacles workers face in exercising their rights through coordinated legal, administrative, and judicial reforms. The strategy must, at a minimum, include amending labor laws so that employers cannot circumvent existing protections; ensuring that the Ministry of Labor upholds the law and follows proper procedures; and implementing measures so that workers have meaningful access to redress in the labor courts."

    Indeed, a USAID funded study conducted by the Salvadoran Ministry of Labor and released in July 2000, found that "there exists an anti-union policy in the maquilas, by which any attempt at organization is repressed."  The report was soon suppressed after the factory owners complained.

    "Worker Right in the Americas?  A Rare Inside Glimpse" NLC, May 2001

    Summary of "Monitoring Report on the Maquila and Bonded Areas, " USAID/SETEFE*/Ministry of Labor, San Salvador, El Salvador, July 2000:

    Complete Denial of Freedom of Association:  "One of the situations that most caught the attention during the visits was the fact that the rate of unionization in the maquila is very low" on investigating the reasons for this phenomenon, it was found that there exists an anti-union policy in the maquilas, by which any attempt at organization is repressed."
    "
    According to union leaders interviewed, it is very common for supervisors and chiefs of personnel to threaten workers with firings if they belong to a union or attempt to form one."

    "The workers stated that one of the principle anti-union policies consists of the management of 'blacklists' of the names of workers who belong or at some point have belonged to a union organization. The workers affirm that the people who appear on these lists are not hired by the maquila companies, which constitutes a flagrant violation of freedom to unionize recognized in our judicial order, the constitution of the Republic, as well as secondary labor legislation."

    "It is also frequent that general and local boards of unions that do exist in the maquila are systematically fired. This can be easily verified by reviewing the complaints regarding freedom of organization received by both the Ministry of Labor's General Directorship and the Inspection Office."

     

    "Within the maquila sub-sector there exists not one collective contract."

     

    * STETEFE stands for Technical Secretariat for Exterior Financing of the Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Relations, the agency through which the USAID funding for the report was channeled.

    "The issue of freedom to unionize is definitely one of the areas in which the rights of the working class are frequently violated."

     

     

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    Attachments:

     

    Letter from Elderwear to Parker, February 24, 2003

    U.S. Customs records of Quality exports, March 2003

    Cost of Living data from Apple Tree

    Human Rights Watch "El Salvador's Failure to Protect Workers' Human Rights: Implications for CAFTA," May 2003

    National Labor Committee "Workers Rights in the Americas/A Rare Inside Glimpse ( May 2001.  Summary and translation of Salvadoran Ministry of Labor Report, and additional case studies)