Earlier this month I joined with the National Labor Committee to send the following letter to hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, asking him to clean up the inconscionable conditions in the factories where his "Sean John" line of clothing is produced. Some of the young women who work in those factories are in the United States this month to raise awareness about their predicament. You can help by telling Sean Combs that human rights are fashionable.
Click here to go the National Labor Committees site and download a report on the Honduran factories and a letter to P. Diddy which you can customize and send to him yourself. And tune back in to this site for more ideas on how to get involved.
Mr. Sean Combs,
Chairman and CEO
c/o Sean John Clothing, Inc.
525 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1009
New York, NY 10018
Dear Mr. Combs:
We write asking your help regarding serious human and worker rights violations at the Southeast Textiles, S.A. (SETISA) factory in Choloma, Honduras, where your Sean John label clothing is produced. Currently, approximately 80 percent of total factory production is for Sean John - namely "69 / Ski Division" sweatshirts. In prior months the SETISA factory produced long-sleeved t-shirts with the Sean John label. The SETISA workers, the majority of whom are young women, face numerous violations, including mandatory pregnancy tests and forced overtime without pay. They are screamed and cursed at to work faster, with the constant threat that any worker who dares ask for his or her rights will be immediately fired.
At the outset, we must state very clearly that neither the SETISA workers nor we ourselves are asking for you to pull your production from the SETISA factory. Quite the opposite. These women need these jobs - but they also want to be treated as human beings and not animals. Rather, the request is that you keep your production in the factory, while working with your contractor to clean up the plant and to guarantee that the rights of the workers are finally respected.
We are in the process right now of drafting a thorough report documenting the systematic human and worker rights violations at the SETISA factory, which we hope to send to you within the next two weeks. At this point, we know that all new women employees face mandatory pregnancy tests, and if they test positive they are immediately fired. The factorys drinking water is filthy and dangerously contaminated, even containing fecal matter. In a glaring illegality, the factory has not inscribed its workers in the national Social Security healthcare system, which is mandatory for all companies. Workers must get permission to use the bathroom, which lacks toilet paper and soap. The women are body-searched when they enter and leave the factory. Supervisors stand over the workers cursing and shouting at them to go faster, yelling, "Bitch ... you eat shit ... go to Hell." Everyone knows that they can be suspended for three days without pay for failing to reach their production goals. Daily production quotas are excessive and the workers cannot leave until they are met, resulting in an hour-and-a-half to two hours of obligatory overtime each day without pay. The workers have no voice and no rights. The SETISA workers told us, "Here we are, as if trapped by these people ... when you complain, they grab you like this, by the shoulder, and they yell into your ear. And they tell you that you cannot complain because we have our rights and you just shut up ... We are alone, really, we have no support."
Anyone suspected of exercising their legal right to freedom of association is immediately fired. Indeed, in June and August 2003, 15 SETISA workers were illegally fired for asking for their rights. Management has told the workers repeatedly that if they dare organize a union, the factory will close and they will be thrown out on the street with nothing. An atmosphere of fear and intimidation pervades the factory.
Corporate audits are very difficult under any circumstance, but especially when the audits are known in advance. In the case of the SETISA plant, the factory is thoroughly cleaned before the auditors arrive. Clean, bottled drinking water is made available. Soap, towels and toilet paper appear in the bathrooms. And the workers are threatened and coached by management to say that conditions in the factory are fine, and that their rights are respected, should they be questioned by the auditors. Everyone knows that if they tell the truth, they will be fired the minute the auditors leave the factory. The only way audits can be effective is when the workers themselves are involved, knowing that they can speak freely with an independent voice without fear of retaliation.
We are convinced that with your intervention the violations at the SETISA factory can be quickly reversed and SETISA can be on its way to becoming a model plant. If you take this step, you will have the full support of not only the SETISA workers, but also of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Honduras, Dr. Ramon Custodio, the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH) and many other non-governmental religious and human rights organizations.
The workers demands are very modest. All they are asking is that the SETISA factory strictly adhere to Honduras labor laws, including the right to freedom of association without fear of reprisals.
It is possible that one of the fired SETISA workers will be visiting New York City on Tuesday, October 28, and we would very much appreciate a meeting with you.
Working to turn SETISA into a model factory will be a win-win situation for everyone. If successful, this will create a new and positive model of respect for worker rights which will extend beyond Honduras to all of Central America and the Caribbean.
Increasingly consumers are concerned, and do not want to purchase products made by children, or by any exploited worker paid pennies an hour and stripped of their rights. The movement to defend basic human, womens and workers rights in the ever-expanding global economy is becoming one of the most important social justice struggles of our era.
We would like to propose to you something very exciting. For some time now, we have been discussing the idea of creating a "Preferred Companies List." Companies and factories on the list might not be perfect, but they would certainly be better than average, and would be moving in the right direction. Our feeling is that better-than-average factories in the global economy should be recognized, celebrated and rewarded with more work. Every time we have raised this in public, the response on the part of consumers has been overwhelming. People want positive alternatives. They want to feel good about what they purchase. For companies or factories to enter the "Preferred List," they would have to take several concrete, very do-able steps, including:
Full public disclosure of all factory names and addresses. The people have a right to know where, in which factories, the goods we purchase are made. Such transparency is fundamental to guaranteeing respect for human and worker rights in the global economy.
Companies must adopt Codes of Conduct which guarantee respect not only for all local labor laws, but also for the core internationally-recognized ILO worker rights standards, especially the freedom of association and the right to organize.
At least once a year, a monitoring report on factory conditions must be released to the public.
A company must commit to quickly and seriously responding to allegations of serious worker rights violations by credible, independent local and international organizations.
Mr. Combs, our proposal is that you help lead this movement to help end child labor and sweatshop abuses in the global economy. You have the stature, public visibility and the power to have an enormous impact. This would put you out in front of this growing social movement to remake the global economy with a human face.
You would not be alone. In fact, some of the largest universities across America now require full public disclosure of all factory names and addresses by their contractors, and a truly independent auditing body, the Workers Rights Consortium, has been created. So there is a well-established track record that can now be extended beyond collegiate apparel and into the larger consumer community.
Of course the first step is to keep your work and jobs at the SETISA factory, while working with your contractor to guarantee respect for worker rights.
We very much hope that you will set aside some time to meet with us and the Honduran workers on Tuesday, October 28. This will be an important meeting. Please do not hesitate to have your staff call us at (212) 242-3002, if we can be of any assistance whatsoever. Thank you.
Founder, The Body Shop
Director,National Labor Committee
CC: Dr. Ramon Custodio, Human Rights Ombudsman of Honduras Israel
Salinas, President, CUTH