Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The university and the maquila

The University of Wisconsin is trying to decide what to do about the fact that sportswear with its logo was produced by an Adidas contractor in El Salvador which exploited its workers. And after that maquila factory owner absconded with funds owed to workers and shut his factory, the workers in a trade union have been blacklisted from finding other employment at other Adidas contractors.

The maquila factory where the workers had been employed was Hermosa Manufacturing in Apopa, El Salvador. Hermosa was a contractor for Adidas and other brands. The violations of workers rights which occurred at the factory have been the focus of anti-sweatshop activists for several years. Now activists are pressuring universities like Wisconsin to cut their licensing deals with Adidas for the actions of Adidas' contractor.

UW sent a fact-finding mission to El Salvador, and the UW officials are now expressing their concern over the blacklisting of former Hermosa workers:

Crim said she met with a group of former workers at Hermosa Manufacturing, which closed without giving severance pay of nearly $1 million to 260 laid-off workers. The factory manufactured Adidas apparel with the Badgers' logo between 2000 and 2002.

A group of 63 workers who were unionized "have been blacklisted" for their activities and no employers in the area will hire them, she said. Some have been forced to look for jobs far from their homes, and at least one was fired in a new job after her boss learned of her past, she said.

The workers want new jobs, back pay and health insurance. "In the two years since the factory has closed, it's been very difficult," Crim said.

Wiley said one of his concerns was that other factories associated with Adidas have refused to hire the workers.

Crim and Wiley did not say whether they believed Adidas violated the university's code of conduct for companies licensed to make university apparel. The code requires companies to meet requirements for wages and other working conditions and aims to ensure apparel is manufactured free of sweatshop-like conditions. The school's Labor Licensing Policy Committee has said Adidas violated the code by allowing retaliation against union workers and failing to monitor the factory's conditions.


Anonymous said...

It is only through solidarity that anything will change. Saying you want justice in El Salvador and then not taking all possible steps to help the people achive it, is a good way to support ARENA and greedy multinationals.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this kind of blacklisting and firing for union organization technically illegal under the new labor laws in El Salvador? Are there any organizations that have pro bono lawyers willing to take this case to a Salvadorian court? There's only so much pressure foreign organizations can put on these businesses. Eventually the Salvadorian government (preferably through the judicial system, since laws are meaningless without enforcement) itself must look out for the interests of the worker or nothing will change.

wally said...

Were the workers in the plant owed money for time they had worked, or were they owed severance pay? Interesting point. Obviously there is a moral obligation to pay severance pay but there may not be a legal one, which would mean that legally the owners didn´t leave owing the workers any money. The article doesn´t make this very clear.