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Guatemalan Kohl`s apparel-maker signs labor pledge

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  |  July 6, 2007  |  Share

Garment factory to adhere to Western standards

July 5, 2007

A Guatemalan garment factory that made Daisy Fuentes-brand apparel for Kohl's Corp. signed a wide-ranging agreement to comply with Western labor standards after human-rights groups had branded the factory an "abusive sweatshop."

The National Labor Committee, which led the protest against the Korean-owned Fribo factory in rural Guatemala, said Fribo signed the agreement early Thursday morning following nearly a month of public pressure and negotiations.

Last week, Kohl's pulled some Daisy Fuentes tops from its stores and Web site after the NLC publicized a catalog of alleged worker abuses.

Kohl's said it will consider restoration of apparel work at the factory "if the Fribo factory meets Kohl's requirements regarding working conditions, wages and benefits, working hours, non-discrimination (and) compliance with laws."

Kohl's purchases Daisy merchandise from a vendor called P.A. Group LLC. "We're pleased with the progress being made between P.A. Group LLC and the Fribo factory," Kohls said, adding: "The Fribo facility is currently not an approved factory and is not authorized to produce Daisy Fuentes apparel."

According to NLC, Fribo deducted payments for Social Security from workers' paychecks but didn't transfer the money to the government, depriving workers of health care and pension benefits.

The NLC also alleged that workers were forced into regular overtime without recording or pay for the extra hours. The workers also complained that they are yelled at and humiliated by supervisors, that they lack clean drinking water, clean plant restrooms or toilet paper.

"The agreement really covers just about everything to bring the factory into compliance," said Charles Kernaghan, the NLC's director at its New York offices.

Under the agreement, a non-profit, non-government organization called the Center for the Study and Support of Local Development, or CEADEL, won the right to routinely inspect the Fribo factory and make sure it's in compliance.

CEADEL, in turn, will report back to NLC, which has a track record in enforcing labor standards and human rights at cheap-labor factories from China to Haiti.

The NLC used similar pressure tactics against such high-profile targets as clothing retailer Gap and television personality Kathie Lee Gifford more than a decade ago. Daisy Fuentes is a Cuban-born celebrity and former MTV star.

The next step, according to Kernaghan, is to make sure that Fribo gets as much work as it can and turn it into a "symbolic fight."

The idea is to transform a "nasty and abusive sweatshop" into a "model factory" that allows its workers to support their families. NLC urges the P.A. Group, as well as other U.S. retailers who contract with the factory, to reward the factory with as many orders as it can muster.

Too often, as soon as an American company is associated with a sweatshop, the American company pulls its orders "and the workers get doubly punished," Kernaghan said.

"That's why these cases become huge symbolic fights," showing that labor can make gains without retribution while owners reap benefits as well, he said.



Fribo, Guatemala Campaign Page

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