Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 21:40:45 -0500 (CDT)
Labor Alerts: a free service of Campaign for Labor Rights
Report devastates PVH claims
Labor Alerts, 15 June 1999
A scathing, meticulously-documented report, released today by three U.S. human rights organizations, destroyed Phillips-Van Heusen's pretexts for the closure of its only unionized facility, the Camisas Modernas factory in Guatemala. The report lends further credibility to charges that the company closed Camisas Modernas in order to destroy the union and to profit from poverty-level wages paid by sweatshop contractors in Guatemala.
The full report is available at <www.americas.org/labor> or by contacting US/LEAP at 773-262-6502, <firstname.lastname@example.org> and will soon appear on the Campaign for Labor Rights web site: <www.summersault.com/~agj/clr>.
Release of the report followed a meeting at Phillips-Van Heusen headquarters in New York City, between PVH CEO Bruce Klatsky and Marisol Lopez, general secretary of the union representing the 500 workers at PVH's Camisas Modernas plant in Guatemala City.
Reports continue to come in from the 20-some U.S. cities where labor rights advocates recently demonstrated at PVH outlets. Interest remains high for continuing to engage in actions in solidarity with the PVH workers.
U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project Chicago, IL 60626
For Immediate Release: June 15, 1999 Contact: Stephen Coats (773) 262-6502
Leading U.S. Shirt Maker Misleads White House, Says Guatemalan Union Leader in Meeting with Company's CEO
In a tense one-hour meeting today with Phillips-Van Heusen CEO Bruce Klatsky at PVH headquarters in New York, the leader of a Guatemalan union delivered an exhaustive and scathing report accusing the company of illegally shutting down the only apparel-for-export factory in Guatemala with a union contract and shifting production to sweatshops.
"The facts speak for themselves," said Marisol Lopez, general secretary of the union representing the 500 workers at PVH's Camisas Modernas plant in Guatemala City. "We call on the company to do what is right and re-open the plant, which never should have been closed. We are ready and eager to go back to work with the dignity and respect that made our factory a beacon of hope for thousands of workers in our country."
PVH claims that it closed the factory because it needed to cut back production, but the report charges that the nation's leading marketer of men's dress shirts has misled its shareholders, the U.S. government, Human Rights Watch, and a White House-initiated task force to end sweatshops of which PVH is a founding member. The report was issued by a coalition of student, labor and religious activist groups and released two days before PVH's June 17 shareholders meeting.
The report found that PVH imports from Central American contractors increased in the first quarter of 1999, jumping over 500% at one Guatemalan contractor. The report also says that workers at every PVH Guatemalan contractor interviewed reported extensive violations of wage and hour laws.
The report concludes that PVH's real motivation was to shift its production to sweatshop contractors paying poverty-level wages of half or less paid by PVH to its unionized workers.
One former PVH worker who was forced to find employment in a PVH contractor reported that her wages were cut 70%. The report estimates that using Guatemalan sweatshop contractors rather than employing its own workers and abiding by the union's contract and by Guatemalan labor law would allow PVH to cut $1 million a year in its labor costs.
The report was issued by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the People of Faith Network, and the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP), who joined with PVH union leader Lopez in calling on PVH to reopen the factory.
"As a member of the Fair Labor Association, PVH has promised the White House, its shareholders, and the public that it will help lead an industry-wide effort to reverse the race to the bottom in this industry and set a floor of decency for the workers who sew the clothes we wear. In Guatemala, PVH has made a mockery of its promise," said Stephen Coats, executive director of the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project, a non-profit organization that has supported the PVH workers since 1991.
The report was sent to human rights members of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) with a request that PVH negotiate with its workers a reopening of the factory or be asked to leave FLA.
The report comes as Congress is voting on new trade benefits for the apparel export industry in Central America and the Caribbean. Mark Levinson, Chief Economist for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), argued, "This is a classical example of what is wrong with NAFTA-parity for CBI countries. Why should we be encouraging production in countries where unions are smashed with impunity and sweatshops are the norm?"
The report's authors called on Human Rights Watch to review its earlier findings on the plant closing. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that the PVH closing had directly violated workers' freedom of association but conditioned its assessment by saying it had not been able to evaluate PVH's stated rationale of market and economic factors. Mr. Klatsky is a member of the board of Human Rights Watch.
The full report is available at www.americas.org/labor or by contacting US/LEAP at 773-262-6502.
BACKGROUND AND CONTACT INFORMATION
Issuers of Report
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a national organization dedicated to fighting sweatshops on the campus level through direct action and education. USAS currently has chapters on over 100 campuses nationwide. Contact: Marion Traub-Werner (out of the country this week, however).
The People of Faith Network is a national multi-faith coalition of 6,000 local congregations, clergy and faith-based activists uniting in campaigns to end child labor and sweatshop abuses. Contact: Kate Pfordresher, Executive Director, 718-625-2819.
US/LEAP, formerly known as the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, is an independent non-profit organization that since 1991 has led international efforts to support the PVH workers in Guatemala. Contact: Stephen Coats, 773-262-6502.
Contact information for others who could comment on this story:
UNITE: Alan Howard, Special Assistant to the President, 212-265-7000.
AIP non-governmental members: Pharis Harvey, Executive Director, International Labor Rights Fund, 202-347-4100. Michael Posner, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, 212-629-6170.
Human Rights Watch: Ken Roth, Executive Director, 212-216-1202.
Fair Labor Association/Apparel Industry Partnership: The Fair Labor Association was formed by the Apparel Industry Partnership, a coalition of industry and human rights organizations convened by the Clinton Administration to establish and enforce minimum standards in the apparel industry in order to eliminate sweatshops in the U.S. and abroad. In November, religious and union members of AIP withdrew from the group, saying the standards were too low and enforcement mechanisms seriously flawed. AIP has become a controversial issue for the sweatshop movement on college campuses where students have grown increasingly concerned about the conditions and wages of workers who sew clothing with university logos. AIP has been joined by some colleges and universities but not by others.
MORE PVH DEMO REPORTS
[All reports were subject to editing.]
TUCSON, AZ: Sixteen members from Students Against Sweatshops and the local activist community protested the PVH outlet store in south central Tucson. We showed up at about 11:00 with hundreds of flyers, three large banners, and about five pickets. Once we were organized, we sent seven or eight people to leaflet in the mall. The mall security was caught completely off guard, because it took them about forty-five minutes to start telling us that we couldn't be leafleting in the store. Two members remained posted at the mall entrances with flyers and went undetected for another fifteen minutes. At that point, we sent in a picket ("Stop the hypocrisy, Don't buy PVH") to stand at the foot of the Van Heusen store. He was eventually kicked out, and another person went in shortly after him with another sign. He went unnoticed by mall security for fifteen minutes, as passersby thought twice about buying from PVH. All the while, ten people gathered outside at the parking lot entrance holding up three large banners, and pickets for every car to see - entering or exiting. By that point, every last car in the parking lot had been tagged with a flyer, and altogether we received much support from the shoppers and workers at the mall.
In preparation for the PVH action, SAS decided to send out press releases, even though we all were doubtful of any response. We were wrong! One of the local news stations came out with a cameraman, and two local papers (including an all-Spanish paper) came out to interview us. Reportedly, we were on Channel 4's 6:00 news and 13's 10:00 news. We had some good luck: Bill Clinton spoke the same day in opposition to unsafe child labor conditions in underdeveloped countries. The news programs ran stories about our action directly after their stories about Clinton's statements. Probably because of this, we were represented pretty well. - Gabe Kirchner and Andrea Melillo, Students Against Sweatshops
ANN ARBOR, MI: Fourteen people talked to and gave pamphlets to over 300 JC Penney customers in Ann Arbor! For almost an hour we talked to people about the locked-out Phillips-Van Heusen workers and their ongoing struggle. While a very few gave us a small piece of their mind and many more were somewhat cadaverous, we got many, many positive responses. Some said they would write Phillips-Van Heusen's CEO and many more said they wouldn't buy PVH clothing while there were locked-out union workers. One customer had actually heard about PVH's union busting before we spoke with him - THE CAMPAIGN IS WORKING.
Eventually, though, we got busted [kicked out, not arrested]! In my case it was the plainclothes mall security couple from hell - "Hey, buddy, you gotta go NOW!" And they looked like such nice people.... Ah well, the manager was more fun ... actually there appeared to be quite a few managers, all quite out of sorts ... this guy was barely able to contain himself as the audacity of someone talking to his customers without his permission overwhelmed him. It's policy! It's private property! You can't talk to people anywhere in the store! Can't talk to people? No, you can't talk to anyone! After a bit, Joe Redintheface accepted a flyer from me and I left. So, one by one, we were nabbed and expelled from the store. It took them a long, long time.
Students are fighting for workers, and *the man* is pissed!!!! But, as it turned out, we were able to talk to hundreds of people, and they signed a number of letters to PVH's CEO demanding he re-open the factory. And many of them are having second thoughts about America's dress shirt maker. With pressure like this, PVH may find that screwing over workers is not a sell. - Bill Abresch
RICHMOND, VA: We leafleted twice, at 10AM and 8PM. Each time we were able to give out some information and sent in a letter to the store manager. They stopped us very quickly in the morning. We actually gave out leaflets for about 30 minutes in the evening when the mall was more crowded. It seems people are interested and rejections were few. Free speech issue should be challenged. What we are doing is possibly not "soliciting." I would argue we are giving information with actions possibly following. - Tom Cleary
PHILADELPHIA, PA: Five people distributed 1,000 leaflets outside the Strawbridge's Department Store in Center City. In general the leaflets were read and well-received. However, a significant number of Caucasians who appeared to be middle-class refused to take the leaflet. We delivered the letter addressed to the store manager, who was not in the store. A store security guard told us we weren't permitted to leaflet on the sidewalk, which she claimed was the store's property. She threatened to call the police to remove us. We told her, "Please do. If they can produce proof that we can't distribute leaflets on the public sidewalk, we'll leave." The police did not appear. The persons who leafleted took copies of the letters to Klatsky to have friends and family sign and send them.
The people who leafleted had suggestions which we hope will be considered and implemented. The leaflet needs to be translated into Spanish for the many Hispanic citizens we spoke with who identified with our cause. Many of these people did not read English. One member of our group who speaks fluent Spanish explained the leaflet to several Spanish-speaking people. - Anne Phillips
BREA and FULLERTON, CA: I began outside a Robinson's May at Brea Mall. Although most people ignored me, I was able to hand out some leaflets, and some people asked me more about the situation. Soon, however, Robinson's May security approached me and told me that I wasn't allowed to "solicitate" on their property. I argued with the security about the nature of soliciting. I held that soliciting involves trying to sell something, and because I wasn't selling anything, I wasn't soliciting. They didn't buy it, however; so I was forced to move.
I then went into the actual mall and stood outside of Robinson's May's entrance. Their security couldn't do anything about it, though, because I was on mall property. I expected mall security to kick me out soon, but no one bothered me in the actual mall. Strangely, I had less success in the busy mall than I had had on the sidewalk outside. Most people were uninterested or simply bothered by my presence. I was too polite, though, for anyone to really say anything mean to me. Some people took the leaflets, and one man in particular was very interested to learn about PVH's practices.
The day continued this way. I went to various department stores that sold PVH, Izod and Geoffrey Beane. As the day wore on, fewer and fewer people were interested in taking leaflets; so I decided to change my approach. I went into the stores and placed folded-up leaflets in the pockets of various PVH shirts. Later, I used the same tactic at a Mervyn's in Fullerton, California. All in all, I was able to hand out or hide about 75 leaflets in about three hours. - John Serop Simonian
Klatsky Wins "Golden Rat" Unionbusting Award
NEW YORK, NY: The Global Sweatshop Coalition, will present Phillips-Van Heusen head Bruce Klatsky with the coalition's first annual "Golden Rat" unionbusting award in a special ceremony June 17 outside a meeting of the company's shareholders in midtown Manhattan.
"There were a lot of competitors," says the coalition's Jim Keady, "but we felt Klatsky deserved special recognition for his perseverance in integrating his company into the new, low-paying, non-union global economy."
"PVH used to own 21 shirt factories in the US," Keady says. "It's closed down all but one. Now even a unionized plant in Guatemala is too expensive for PVH; it's shifted almost all of its production to subcontractors."
Keady noted that Klatsky is a member of the White House's Apparel Industry Partnership and sits on the Human Rights Watch board of directors. "People might worry that Klatsky's too concerned about labor rights and human rights," Keady says, "but we want to reassure them: His real interest is the bottom line."
The awards ceremony will take place shortly before the shareholders' meeting starts, at 10:00 am, Thursday, June 17, outside Chase Securities, 270 Park Avenue, at 47th Street. Other activities, starting around 9:00 am, will include picketing, street theater and reports from activists who have met with the CAMOSA workers in Guatemala, where the laid-off unionists have maintained a round-the-clock vigil ever since the plant was closed.
MORE LOCAL ACTION (BUT NOT PVH)
ALBUQUERQUE, NM: The Sweatshop Free Albuquerque coalition is gaining numbers and having success. The city of Albuquerque just included our wording in a new ordinance (written into their purchasing department guidelines) that prohibits purchasing sweatshop-produced materials. - Tim McGivern, Interhemispheric Resource Center
SECOND INSTALLMENT OF ORGANIZING PACKET ALMOST READY
Work on the second installment of the 1999 Sweatshop Activist Organizing Packet is nearing completion. We hope to put it in the mail on June 22. Everyone who ordered the first installment automatically receives subsequent installments throughout the year. Once mailing of the second installment begins, everyone ordering the packet will receive the new materials, plus all materials which are still timely from the first installment.
The 1999 Sweatshop Activist Organizing Packet is a multi-theme, multi-campaign packet for local activists who are organizing around sweatshop issues. Order by email <CLR@igc.org> or phone (541) 344-5410. Include your postal address: Packet is in hard copy. Packet includes a donation form and a return envelope. Suggested donation: $10.00.