May, 01 2001 |  Download PDF |  Share

Workers' Rights in the Americas?


Suppressed USAID-funded investigation documents the systematic repression of human and worker rights in the free trade zones of El Salvador, government complicity and corruption. Eighty-five thousand maquila workers, mostly young women, sewing garments for Nike, Jordan, Adidas, GAP, Ohio State, Duke, University of Michigan, Georgetown, Kohl's, Wal-Mart and Elderwear school uniforms are systematically denied their rights and paid wages of "abject poverty."


Executive Summary

A suppressed Salvadoran Government investigation of working conditions in the free trade zones--funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) documented:

  • Below-subsistence wages--leaving families mired in "abject poverty."
  • Forced overtime--"on a daily basis...under threat of firings"... "On some occasions the workers find themselves obligated to sleep in the factory facilities..."
  • Excessively high production goals-- "If the worker does not reach the production goal during the regular work day, she is under the obligation to work overtime on her own account." I.e., to remain working overtime hours without pay. "Supervisors frequently threaten to fire those workers who do not complete assigned production goals..."
  • Abusive working conditions--"The majority of workers...are subjected to mistreatment by managerial personnel," who put constant pressure on the workers, shouting at them to work faster.
  • Unsafe working conditions--"Excessive heat"... "poor ventilation"... "the excessive lint" which permeates the factory's air. "In many cases workers do not receive safety equipment...such as masks, gloves, respirators for the handling of chemicals..." and "poor quality of water for human consumption."
  • Limited access to health care: "In the majority of cases, the workers have had to give up their regular medical care because of the bosses' and supervisors' refusal to allow them to attend their appointments, arguiing that their presence is needed to cover production goals."
  • Complete denial of freedom of association: "...It was found that there exists an anti-union policy in the maquilas, by which any attempt at organization is repressed...It is very common for supervisors and chiefs of personnel to threaten workers with firing if they belong to a union or attempt to form one... It is also frequent that general and local boards of unions that do exist in the maquila are systematically of the principle anti-union policies consists of the management of ‘blacklists'... Within the maquila subsector, there exists not one collective contract."
  • Government complicity and corruption--"The workers were very emphatic in declaring that there is a great deal of corruption in activities of labor inspection personnel...that certain inspectors periodically receive money from the companies..."
  • Labor Ministry needs to be cleaned up and overhauled--"The urgent necessity for a leap in the quality of the work of the Ministry in its principal activities: overseeing compliance with labor laws and attending to the resolution of labor conflicts..."


USAID-funded Salvadoran Government Report immediately Suppressed

This rare, truthful glimpse provided by the Salvadoran Ministry of Labor investigation into actual working conditions in the free trade zones in El Salvador survived just one day before managers of the maquila companies read it and began to "howl with rage."  With only 100 copies distributed, the Salvadoran government moved quickly to suppress the report, suspend printing, lay off the researchers involved, and demand the return of the 100 or so copies of the report that had been distributed.  The Salvadoran Ministry of Labor then went on television to announce that the report was all a big "misunderstanding," but that now they would conduct real, "serious" research.  The cover-up had begun.  The total impunity the maquila companies enjoyed in their violation of human and worker rights would be restored.

However, not all copies of the original USAID-funded Salvadoran government report were returned.  The National Labor Committee held onto our copy so it could be released to the Salvadoran and American people, who have a right to know the truth.




Download the full report