Over the past two years I have referred to the textile factory which operated under the name "Just Garments" as "worker owned" and "paying a living wage" and "respecting worker's rights." That's what many people with solidarity organizations in the US wanted to believe. That hope led them to give tens of thousands of dollars to support the experiment at Just Garments. That same hope made it difficult for them to recognize that Just Garments was not living up to its name.
In a by-lined series of articles in El Diario de Hoy, reporter Jorge Ávalos has laid out the lack of substance behind the utopian image of Just Garments as a different kind of factory where workers interests were respected:
The truth, confirmed by an abundance of testimonies and documents generated by 19 workers claims, is that the workers were not paid what was owed them.
Under false promises and social pressure of "just employment", the employees suffered this abuse for months and years in silence, until, pressured by their economic situations, they abandoned the factory.
Among the points laid out by Ávalos:
- Just Garments was never owned by its workers. 99% of its shares were owned by a Chinese businessman, Tao Chang Wu.
- Just Garments failed to account for tens of thousands of dollars raised from solidarity organizations in North America.
- Just Garments repeatedly failed to pay contributions on workers behalf to El Salvador's social security/healthcare system.
- Workers at the factory, primarily women, were paid less than the legal minimum wage and often wages were not paid at all.
- The factory owed more than $65,000 in employee salaries and contributions when it was shut down.
- The factory kept no accounting records and did not have its books audited.
- Just Garments closed down with debts totaling as much as $250,000.
The articles in El Diario are not the first place where the mistreatment of workers at Just Garments have been described. The Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America has also been supporting former Just Garments workers in their attempts to get compensation for wages, severance and pension payments never made to them. The National Labor Committee has posted English translation of worker testimonies on its web site.
For a somewhat contrary view of Just Garments, read this statement from USLeap, a worker's rights organization which supported the Just Garments project from its inception.
For a very contrary view of Just Garments.
After I posted this article, I opened my email to discover that I had received an e-mail from Gilberto Garcia, the representative of Just Garments who Jorge Ávalos blames for the problems of the project. In his e-mail, Garcia provides a response to the assertions in the El Diario series of articles and a 34 point list of factual errors in those articles. You can read both the e-mail and the 34 point list.
Read Jorge Ávalos' rejoinder to Gilberto Garcia in the first comment to this post.