During a two-week period in September 1996, U.S. Department of Labor Officials travelled to six countries - the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India and the Philippines - as part of a major study of codes of conduct in the garments industry. The outcome was a report, _The Apparel Industry and Codes of Conduct: A Solution to the International Child Labor Problem?_ (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, 1996).
In the Philippines they visited 18 factories, including V.T.Fashion. V.T.Fashion is a Taiwanese invested garment factory located in the Cavite Export Processing Zone in Rosario. The company produced skirts, jackets, dresses, short pants, vests, and blouses for the Gap, Guess, Jones New York, Eddie Bauer, May Co, Macy, Liz Clairborne, Ellen Tracy, Head, Benetton, Ruff Hewn, LeQ, Chachi, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic. Some of these companies have codes of conduct or codes of practice, and recently signed the Clinton Task Force NO SWEAT agreement in Washington.
It is incredible that so much publicity has surrounded the empty promises and false commitments of these companies to workers' human rights, and so little attention has been given to the death of Carmelita Alonzo, a sewing machine operator at V.T.Fashion. Of course the failure of the visiting U.S. Labor Department officials to notice the extremely bad working conditions at V.T.Fashion will be excused by the fact that they were only concerned with child labour. The terrible conditions faced by adult workers was ignored and workers like Carmelita, a 35 year old mother of five, were left to sweat.
The fact that the large delegation of officials from the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) who were "consulted" also failed to raise even the most basic problems concerning wages and working conditions at V.T. Fashion and other factories will also be excused on the basis that they too were only concerned with child labour. The reality is that the pro-government TUCP and the visiting US delegation failed to identify the abusive labour practices which only a few months later led to Carmelita's death.
Carmelita died on March 8, 1997, International Women's Day, at the Andres Bonifacio Memorial Hospital in Cavite, the Philippines, after 11 days in hospital. According to a statement released by her co-workers at V.T. Fashion, "Carmelita was killed by her 14 hour workday every day plus overtime of eight hours every Sunday." (Philippine News Features, March 19, 1997).
The workers denounced the system of quotas set by the company which forced them to work 12 to 14 hours per day. According to the Workers Assistance Center in Rosario, Carmelita had died because of the strict regime in V.T. Fashion and its sister company, All Asia Garment Industries, which forces workers to obey a compulsory 14 hour shift.
Until V.T. Fashion burned down in a fire on April 1, 1997, there are 1046 workers at, 90% are women workers aged between 17-30. Workers received only 155 pesos (US$5.96) as the daily minimum wage and are subjected to overtime. This wage is not enough to meet the living costs of workers and rising prices. Workers were made to work from 7 am to 9 pm during weekdays, 7 am to 7 pm on Saturdays and 6 am to 2 pm on Sundays. Rest periods were usually an hour during lunch time and 30 minute in the afternoon. Less than half of the workers were regular workers. Most were employed on 3 to 4 month "apprenticeship" contracts or as contractual workers with employment contracts of only 5 months. Others were employed on 6 month contracts.
The company subcontracted work to some companies inside and outside the Export Processing Zone. During peak production work was subcontracted out to other companies and workers were hired for 3 to 6 months as apprentices and contractual workers. The company has also established a new company called EQ. Workers on 6 month contracts at V.T.Fashion will be transferred to EQ when their contracts expire.
This is despite the fact that the US Labor Department report, _The Apparel Industry and Codes of Conduct_, asserts: "Liz Clairborne stated that it discourages subcontracting since it creates special problems with regard to the application of Liz Clairborne's code."(43)
In January 1997 the company was busy hiring another group of contractual workers since it terminated the services of those whose 5 month contracts have expired. The management made sure that contractual workers did not reach 6 months of employment and always made sure that there was a new group of workers ready to replace those whose contracts expired.
Contractual workers had no sick leave with pay or other benefits. The management immediately fired women workers who became pregnant. Of course, there was no union at V.T.Fashion.
When the factory burned down in an accidental fire in April, all of the workers were easily dismissed with wages or compensation because they were all contractual workers. But workers at All Asia Garment Industries and other garment factories in the Cavite EPZ continue to suffer the same conditions that led to Carmelita's death.
The V.T.Fashion workers never knew of any codes of conduct, even though the U.S. Labor Department report states that: "Liz Clairborne, which has translated its Standards of Engagement into more than ten different languages, requires all contractors to post the standards in the local language in common areas, such as cafeterias or locker rooms, of every facility where Liz Clairborne products are made."(47) And there was no "constant monitoring" of compliance with the code by the Gap, or "spot checks" by Liz Clairborne staff as the report, _The Apparel Industry and Codes of Conduct_ suggests.(54-55)
The report also claims that:"The Gap requires that its code, which has been translated into 39 languages, be posted in each contractor facility." (47) Yet when representatives of the Gap, including the manager for vendor compliance based in Hong Kong, Geoffrey Hantover, met with workers' representatives in Cavite in May, they said that the Gap's Code of Conduct was only translated into a Filipino version on April 21, 1997: 44 days after Carmelita's death.
The Gap representatives then added that since V.T.Fashion produced "very little for Gap", they would not take any responsibility at all for the conditions which led to Carmelita's death.
Here lies the real Gap: between the empty rhetoric of codes of conduct and NO SWEAT agreements, and the brutal working conditions under which workers are exploited.
Asia Monitor Resource Center
Folks--This message re exploitation of workers in the Philippines is all too real.
What really wasn't addressed, however, is why was the US delegation consulting with the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) around working conditions?
The TUCP was a creation of the Marcos Dictatorship, and the only recognized labor center during the dictatorship. Since then, it has supported both Cory Aquino after she swung to the right, and Fidel Ramos, who have led massive attacks on militant labor and particularly the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno-May First Movement), which in my opinion is one of the most dynamic and developed labor movements not only in the Philippines but the world. Most folks don't know this, but human rights abuses against labor were WORSE under Aquino than they were under Marcos! One of the key forces that the military during those times used against labor and other progressive organizations, not just underground but legal, mass organizations, was death squads--by 1989, over 200 death squads had been identified throughout the country! One of their main targets was militant labor leaders. Ramos, who was one of the main actors of the dictatorship, has been opening the economy to GATT and the new World Trade Organization, with disastrous effects on all workers.
The main federation of TUCP is called ALU, Associated Labor Unions. The head of TUCP is also one of the founders and head of ALU, Democrito Mendoza. ALU's heartland is the island of Cebu. During the late 1980s, in efforts to re-take a local union at the Atlas Mines (the largest copper mines in all of Asia) in Cebu from KMU, ALU united with the Philippine Constabulary, local officials, mining company management, and death squads. The repression directed against the KMU-affiliated local union was intense. According to documentation presented to me personally by the Exective Board of the local union (PAMA-SFPL-KMU) "between March 21, 1987 and April 6, 1989, ten union memembers were killed and seven others wounded. Three relatives of union members were killed and six wounded. These cases are in addition to the eight cases of shots being fired into the union office or members' homes, two stabbings, five attempted murders, 12 shootings, 21 death threats and many forcible arrests." This is from my book, KMU: BUILDING GENUINE TRADE UNIONISM IN THE PHILIPPINES, 1980-1994: 124. (Should anybody be interested in details on how to get my book, which was published in 1996 in the Philippines, but is being distributed by a book company in San Francisco, please contact me and I'll send the details.)
Despite the violence, a representation election was held on March 21, 1989. "Out of 7,395 valid votes and among 12 competing unions, PAMA [the KMU-affiliate] won 5,025 votes (68%); ALU received 292." The results were certified by the Department of Labor and Employment in April 1989. (Again, from p. 124).
(And for additional information on ALU, see John Sidel's article, "On the Waterfront: Labour Racketeering in the Port of Cebu," SOUTH EAST ASIA RESEARCH, vol. 3, No. 1, March 1995: 3-17. I also presented additional information on ALU's operations in Cebu besides around Atlas Mines in my book.)
Now, ALU and the TUCP are not exactly my idea of worthy labor organizations. However, the AFL-CIO at least used to think differently: according to INTERNATIONAL LABOUR REPORTS magazine, the AFL-CIO channeled over $5.7 million to TUCP between 1983-88, an amount greater than that sent to ANY other labor organization in the world during those years. Additionally, we know that in September 1991, the AFL-CIO through its Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) channeled $3.7 million to Philippine Senator (and General Secretary of TUCP) Ernesto Herrera in exchange for his vote favoring retention of US military bases in the country. Herrera admitted to getting the money once questioned. (Extension of the bases treaty was defeated, and the US pulled out in late 1992.)
Now, the question remains, WHY did the US Labor Department delegation go to the TUCP for information on labor conditions in the country? Is the AFL-CIO, either directly or through its foreign operations institute, still supporting the TUCP? This message (reprinted below) suggests to me that the TUCP is still getting support from the Sweeney-led AFL-CIO? (The SEIU under Sweeney supported the TUCP. According to an editorial in the PHILIPPINE LABOR ALERT, March-July 1990, the SEIU adopted a report on May 30, 1990, by its International Affairs Committee on a delegation's trip to the Philippines--in the editorial, is is written that "... the factfinding team did gratuitously salute the TUCP, saying that AFL-CIO support to TUCP through AAFLI 'has enabled the TUCP to gow and improve the lot of the working people of the Philippines'.")
Although private conversations from sources that were off the record have suggested that Sweeney and his administration have considerably reformed the AFL-CIO's foreign operations, I have yet to get detailed information on current AFL-CIO activities in the Philippines. My informants simply have not been able to provide this information. Particularly in light that a US Labor Deparment delegation is depending on the TUCP as their source for information re workers' conditions, and that it is inconceivable that the Labor Dept would not have consulted the AFL-CIO before going, I think it is time that all progressives call for the AFL-CIO to release a DETAILED report on all of their operations in the Philippines, either direct or indirect, specifically including AAFLI's work, and that this report should detail all of their operations since 1975. And this report should specifically include any and all information about activities since Sweeney's assumption of power to date.