Thursday, February 12, 2015

Corrupt unions and gangs suppress worker rights

Researchers from Penn State University released a report last week documenting abusive labor practices in El Salvador's garment industry.  Factory owners are systematically abusing the rights of workers and thwarting workers' ability to organize.   The report is titled Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights.   Among the report's findings:

Following the end of the civil war in 1992, private employers found new ways to thwart union organizations. The use of “blacklists” proliferated among Salvadoran garment sector employers during the 1990s and continues to this day.10 Employers circulate blacklists with the names of union activists and/or factories that have had a strong union presence. Unionized workers thus have trouble finding employment in another company following their dismissal from the factory where they joined a union. In today’s garment sector in El Salvador, blacklisting is  compounded by apparent collusion between factory owners and other entities both inside and outside the workplace that serve to thwart freedom of association. This report discusses three forms of such apparent collusive behavior by employers that create barriers to workers’ freedom of association in the garment industry: 
1. Collusion with or pay-offs to corrupt unions in exchange for those unions quelling worker activism or workers’ claims to legally owed wages or severance. One labor organization particularly implicated in this practice has been the National Federation of Salvadoran Unions, known by its Spanish acronym, Fenastras, and its affiliate plant-level unions. 
2. Providing illegal preferential treatment toward certain labor organizations. Employers have given preferential treatment to some workplace organizations by requiring employees to maintain membership in them as a condition of employment, by granting them greater access to workers, and by enabling them to offer employees loans from the company. Such preferential treatment undermines the ability of workers to freely join and form independent unions of their own choosing. 
3. The use of threats and violence from members of the country’s street gangs to dissuade union organization. While the days of the Salvadoran death squads have passed, the prevalence of gang violence in the country has introduced new forms of intimidation against workers who attempt to form their own labor unions.
The Penn State researchers call for global brands and retailers which purchase from these factories to be much more active in monitoring codes of conduct and only purchase from factories which actually respect worker rights.   In addition, the Salvadoran government should devote significantly greater resources to investigating and prosecuting violations of Salvadoran labor law.

Read the entire report here.

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