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Factory Owners in El Salvador Announce Their Own Code; CISPES Launches ‘Pledge for Workers Rights’

Campaign for Labor Rights Action Alerts, 8 August 1998

Two days after the White House Rose Garden press conference announcing the accord of the President's Task Force on Sweatshops, the Salvadoran clothing manufacturers' association ASIC announced its own "Code of Conduct" with terms similar to the U.S. agreement. ASIC will use transnational auditing companies "to certify that international labor norms are not violated." They expect most of their 230 member companies to adopt the code, which according to one newspaper headline, will "eliminate the effects of international campaigns." Unlike the U.S. agreement, ASIC's Code was designed by the factory owners and imposed unilaterally without apparent union or labor rights participation.

According to the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), the factory owners' motivation is clear. El Salvador's maquila industry is not in good shape. Factories are losing contracts, and one maquila closed March 31, leaving 460 workers with. out work. A February report by the Human Rights Ombudswoman's office finds that harassment, pay levels, health and safety risks, and anti-union pressures remain serious problems, despite industry statements that "because of one person, because of one factory that is not doing things the way it should, the whole country gets criticized and blamed."

CISPES believes that the U.S. accord is an advance in establishing international standards and a mechanism to enforce them. But, the organization goes on, we are not yet strong enough to make either the standards or the enforcement mechanism adequate. Both the new U.S. and Salvadoran codes allow factory owners to continue organizing production (work hours, working conditions, pay) with little threat of worker organization. When injustices occur, there is only a random chance that the news will reach a monitor, or that the monitor will take that grievance all the way to justice.

Two important questions, according to CISPES, are 1) How can the U.S. task force accord can be turned into a real tool for global labor organization; and 2) Is there a way to challenge ASIC's false solution without seriously harming the interests of Salvadoran maquila workers?

At the Mandarin factory in El Salvador, another model of monitoring from that of the U.S. and ASIC's is in place and functioning. The Independent Monitoring Commission with representatives from Salvadoran non-governmental organizations (NGOs) set up at a Mandarin after the 1995 GAP campaign is in the factory every week. It has gained the confidence of workers by registering their complaints and negotiating solutions with management. The bathrooms have been unlocked; there is no more abuse; and discussions have begun about health and safety upgrades. Management also supports the commission because it depolarized an extremely tense workplace. The National Labor Committee has called for extending the Salvadoran model to other factories and other countries, but this has not yet happened.

Meanwhile, beginning on May 1, International Workers' Day, CISPES is launching a "Pledge for Workers Rights" in which concerned people sign a pledge to "take monthly action to stop the global assault on workers, and to build just alternatives through international worker solidarity." Action Number 1 will take place in June and will target the support by the U.S. government for the privatization of public services in El Salvador by President Alfredo Mena Lagos. Some of the actions that are suggested are banner drops, interviews on talk shows on the radio or public access television, street theater, fake newspaper fronts and other activities.

To find out how you can participate in the "Pledge for Workers Rights" or more about the Salvadoran corporate code, contact CISPES National Office at P.O. Box 1801, New York, NY 10159, tel. (212) 229-1290.

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