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Manipulated or Witnesses? Regarding the Communications around Just Garments

May 9, 2007  |  Share

San Salvador, May 10, 2007

En español

The undersigned organizations, also signatories to a communiqué made public on April 19, 2007, which denounced labor rights violations in the Just Garments company, express our indignation and rejection of the observations made by the factory's pro-management union, CEAL and Just Garment's administrator.  The union states that our organizations have been manipulated by the SEAC Company and the National Labor Committee (NLC).  In the same vein, we consider it unacceptable that the administrator of Just Garments, Gilberto Ernesto Garcia Dueñas, in his May 3, 2007 communiqué states that the accusations of the fired workers are false.

Our organizations have received denunciations directly from those workers, victims of human and labor rights violations by Just Garments, SA.  Together with them we have worked to recuperate the money that belongs to them and that said company has refused to pay.  We confirm first hand all that was denounced in the cited communiqué of April 19, 2007, and we have backing both in document form and in testimonies.  We would not put our long institutional histories of honesty and ethics in the defense of human rights at risk by venturing to make accusations without proof, either in this case or in any other.  We can show this evidence to anyone interested, including, should anyone desire to confirm the facts personally, we invite him to visit El Salvador to speak with the worker victims.

The decision to send the denunciation of April 19, 2007 to allied organizations in the United States (U.S.) was taken in a collective manner after having accompanied the fired workers in their judicial processes inside El Salvador and after repeated lack of response to their demands from Just Garments.  Its administrator, like any other maquila businessman, has a history filled with Ministry of Labor citations to resolve the complaints that workers have been making since 2004.  His attitude has been one of not being in attendance or, if at a certain moment he has committed to pay part of what is owed, the time period ends and he doesn't comply.

The communiqués of Garcia Dueñas and the pro-management union in defense of Just Garments also contain notable contradictions.  On one hand, Garcia Dueñas says that his communiqué is accompanied by an audited financial report.  But what appears are various statistical graphs of supposed income and expenses of the factory without any reference to the financial management of the company, nor the seal or signature of the auditor.

In the CEAL communiqué issued on April 3, 2007, it is expressed that "the economic system and the government itself have directly generated conditions of economic asphyxiation for the worker controlled factory."  Then reference is made to SEAC as "a small United States company, recently formed and focused on just trade" whose intention was to sew "tee shirts in Just Garments and export them to the U.S.[for sale] in markets where consumers prefer to  buy clothing from factories that have unions and are not dominated by the classic abuses of the maquila."  But then, in the communiqué dated May 3, 2007, Garcia Dueñas now no longer directs his artillery against the government and corporate right but rather against SEAC stating, "the failure of joint operations between SEAC Intl and JG originated principally from SEAC's failure to follow through on their commitment to provide financing and raw materials on time."  Did SEAC change in one month from being an ally company to being culpable for Just Garments ills?

In the communiqué of May 3 it is mentioned that the closure of the factory was due to the fact that four months of rent were owed to the owner of the building where the company operated.  But in the following communiqués this detail is left out and it is only said that the closure is an illegal action by the building owner.

In their attempts to defend Just Garments, they have always sought out scapegoats to excuse their failures.  The public criticisms and accompaniment of the worker victims have been portrayed as vicious attacks and manipulations for "personal motives" of the actors and organizations within and outside the country.  In some cases—as verified above—the causes of the failure of the factory have been rightwing business people and the government, in others, SEAC, and sometimes, the organizations who were supporting the workers.

The incoherence of Just Garments has always been one of its characteristics.  It was promoted as a company owned by the workers, under worker control, where the wages and benefits were above the legal requirements, where, in addition, "just garment"  was sewn.  Nevertheless, in practice what it was an incorporated entity [Sociedad anonima] and a union completely coopted by the administration in the context of some working conditions that were indistinguishable from the traditional "sweatshop" when it should have been an example of ethics and transparency.

The only thing that is, in fact, a constant in the communiqués from Just Garments, CEAL and Garcia Dueñas is that the grave problem faced by the workers has been systematically ignored, while they have seen months pass without being paid, have been forced to work overtime without pay, have not had access to health services—in spite of the fact that some of them were pregnant—and were being denied a pension for their old age.  These women are not "making firewood of a fallen tree," they are claiming their rights.

The organizations who in good faith supported Just Garments did not give sufficient credence to the accusations the workers have been making public since 2004 and the problem ended up becoming unmanageable and harming many more workers.

It is our greatest hope that after the workers have been compensated for damages and this case has been reflected upon, that new actions will move to improve the systems of review and receipt of complaints to prevent more people from being harmed in experiments where the greatest risk is run and paid for by the workers, who should be the center of concern for those of us who truly work to improve working and living conditions in poor countries.

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

Federation of Associations and Unions of El Salvador
(Federación de Asociaciones y Sindicatos de El Salvador - FEASIES)

Salvadoran Union Federation
(Federación Sindical Salvadoreña - FESS)

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

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

Women Transforming
(Mujeres Transformando)

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

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