Have you ever bought clothes with the "Athletic Works" label at Wal-Mart, or picked up some "Tek Gear" duds from Kohls? If so, you have worn the hard work of Nicaraguans working in the textile factories owned by Taiwanese King Yong garment export company. Under the Central American Free Trade Agreement - which will be voted on by the US Congress and member countries later this year and next - the human rights abuses that are already occuring there will be encouraged and rewarded. Now is the time to speak up against this case-study in all that is wrong with CAFTA.
King Yong continues to defy repeated demands by the government of Nicaragua to immediately reinstate scores of illegally fired workers, end excessive mandatory overtime, pay the legal overtime wage, and to correct numerous health and safety violations including inadequate lighting, excessive noise, poor ventilation and failure to conduct health and safety trainings.
On March 22, 2004, exercising their constitutional right, the workers at King Yong organized a legal union. Three days later the firings began. To date, over 400 workers have been fired, including seven of the newly elected union leaders.
Conditions at King Yong Factory violate internationally recognized labor rights standards:
- Workers are paid just 8 to 9 cents for every garment they sew for Wal-Mart and Kohls.
- They are forced to work 12-to-15-hour shifts, six days a week.
- The base wage of 29 to 34 cents an hour meets less than one-half of basic subsistence level needs.
- Supervisors routinely shout and curse at the workers, often throwing the garments in their faces.
- Bathrooms are filthy, lacking toilet paper and often even water.
- The water provided is not safe to drink.
- Workers faint from the excessive heat.
These violations render Wal-Mart and Kohls Codes of Conduct meaningless.
Despite repeated demands by the Nicaraguan government to respect the countrys Constitution and Labor Code, King Yong defies the government and refuses to act.
Under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, Nicaragua was granted special trade privileges that will allow abusive factories like King Yong to export 427 million garments to the U.S. duty free, despite the fact that the fabric may be sourced in China.
CAFTA must be revised to include worker rights protections that are at least as strong as the legal protections currently afforded to corporate trademarks and products. Without this necessary renegotiation, companies like King Yong will be free to pit workers in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America against workers in the U.S. in a race to the bottom.
Please visit: The National Labor Committee to learn more about this case, download the entire report, and learn ways to take action. On their website, you will also find model letters and a tool to look up your local Congressperson.
This case is winnable, but your voice is urgently needed to strengthen the international coordinating around the campaign. By speaking out now and sharing this information with others, you will be joining an international movement dedicated to ensuring that these and other workers are treated fairly.