Enhancing Social Protection in the Apparel & Footwear Industry in Central America

Lopez-Perez & Salazar

FLA's Jorge Perez-Lopez & Omar Salazar Alvarado of ASEPROLA

On March 17, FLA hosted a seminar and discussion in Washington, D.C., on social protection for apparel and footwear workers, with emphasis on Central America.  Omar Salazar Alvarado, Executive Director of the Asociación de Servicios de Promoción Laboral (ASEPROLA), presented the paper Enhancing Social Protection in the Apparel and Footwear Industry in Central America, which was commissioned by the MFA Forum as part of its Sustainable Apparel and Footwear Initiative. The target countries in the study were Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua – which have seen an estimated 20% decrease in employment in this sector over the past three years caused by the financial crisis in the United States and an increased shift of apparel and footwear production to Asian countries.

The ASEPROLA report presents a series of proposals to strengthen worker protections in the region, focusing on the role of the government, workers and social justice organizations in this effort.  It also provides a general context of the region in terms of employment structure, public policy and laws protecting workers’ rights. Details on wage structures in each of these countries – along with options for worker compensation – can be found in the report as well.  Read the report in English or Spanish.

ASEPROLA Panelists

Veronica Alaimo, Homero Fuentes, Ana Aslan, Jennifer Bair

Mr. Salazar opened with an overview of the report, followed by a panel discussion moderated by FLA’s Executive Director Jorge Perez-Lopez.  Panelists included:

  • Jennifer Bair, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado
  • Ana Aslan, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Homero Fuentes, COVERCO, Guatemala
  • Veronica Alaimo, Inter-American Development Bank

View Mr. Salazar’s PowerPoint overview of key findings – which he presented at the event – in English or Spanish.


Will we learn lessons from Japan?

This article was written by FLA President & CEO Auret van Heerden for the Institute for Human Rights & Business. It originally appeared on the IHRB blog.

Anyone writing about a disaster has to be extremely cautious to avoid being insensitive and arrogant and so it is with extreme humility and sympathy for the suffering of those affected by the combined earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan that I venture the following thoughts. In fact, it is out of respect for the Japanese people that I raise the issue of human rights and the social responsibility of companies operating nuclear power stations.

Right now a few hundred of the bravest people on the planet are trying to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power station. They are being exposed to extremely dangerous levels of radiation and their rights at work have had to be sacrificed to save hundreds of thousands of people from harm. At the same time the policy makers and company directors who took the decisions that made the disaster possible insist that they could never have foreseen such a series of events. Or could they? Did they plan for the worst-case scenario or did they take calculated risks based on some mathematical model and cost-benefit analyses? Most importantly for the future, will they learn the lessons of this disaster and will they be held accountable for any negligence?

Read Auret’s full article here.

Factory safety 100 years after the Triangle shirtwaist tragedy

On March 25, 1911, a fire engulfed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City, claiming the lives of 146 workers – mostly immigrant women. One hundred years later, the safety of workers in many factories around the world is still at risk.

A recent report on The World examines the impact of the tragedy on labor in the U.S. and abroad. From the article:

Garment jobs have been shifting to lower-cost operations in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Asia for decades, as have dangerous working conditions. “Effectively what we have done is exported our sweatshops and exported our factory fires,” said Robert Ross at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. And it’s as if the 1911 conditions had been lifted up by an evil hand and dropped into Bangladesh.”

According to the Bangladeshi government’s Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, 414 garment workers were killed in at least 213 factory fires between the years 2006 and 2009. Last year, 191 people were killed in Bangladesh in a reported 20 incidents, according to Ross’ research. Last December, a fire killed at least 25 people in a garment factory there.

“And the pattern is disturbingly uniform,” said Ross. “The shops are often in high rise buildings, just like the Triangle. The pattern is that an electrical fire starts, and then without adequate, or any fire escapes, without sprinkler systems, the workers surge to get out. And in factory after factory, the newspapers report locked gates and locked doors. It’s a horrific duplication of what we earlier experienced.”

The question is: Why does this keep happening? Labor laws exist, both international and country-specific rules. But HeeWon Brindle-Khym, with the Fair Labor Association in New York City, said laws are often ignored in places like Bangladesh and China.

“It’s cheaper for many factory owners to not abide by the law because it costs them money,” said Brindle-Khym. “In terms of the enforcement of the law, there’s just aren’t enough inspectors to go to each and every factory in China to ensure that labor rights are being enforced.”

Read the full article here. The report also aired on NPR – listen here. Read the rest of this entry »

Russell Brands & Outdoor Cap Gain Accreditation

As part of the accreditation process, these companies’ compliance programs – including internal monitoring protocols, training programs and auditing systems – were subjected to extensive performance reviews.  Their supplier facilities were independently monitored and appropriate remediation plans and programs were implemented. They have also committed to a continued program of monitoring and remediation and to continuous improvement in labor conditions.  We commend Russell Brands and Outdoor Cap for the steps they have taken and for the commitment they have made.

Wage Fairness: It’s not just about the money

Most corporate social responsibility work on wages has focused on whether a workplace meets a certain level of compensation, usually the legal minimum wage. But fairness of wages and, crucially, perception of wage fairness, are more complex than that. Even if a factory pays workers the national minimum wage and meets other legal requirements (e.g. pay the legally-required wage on time and in full; pay for the proper number of hours worked) it may nevertheless have unfair wages because of undue disparities in wages within the enterprise or because wages may not reflect worker productivity. In addition to meeting legal requirements, a factory must also consider wage levels in light of prevailing wages and cost of living; rates of wage adjustments, pay systems such as the bases for wages, overtime and wage deductions; and how pay systems are communicated and discussed with workers.

Working in collaboration with FLA and its affiliates, Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead of the International Labor Organization has developed a measurement approach that looks at twelve dimensions of fair wages.[1] Based on this approach, and the accompanying research, the FLA has created a self-assessment tool that companies and factories can use to assess whether their wage practices are fair and sustainable.

According to Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, the following dimensions should be considered in order to ensure workers’ wages are fair:

  1. Payment of wages: A wage which is regularly and formally paid in full to the workers.
  2. Living wage: A wage that ensures minimum acceptable living standards.
  3. Minimum wage: A wage which respects the minimum wage regulations.
  4. Prevailing wage: A wage which is comparable to wages in similar enterprises in the same sector.
  5. Payment of working time: A wage that does not generate excessive working hours and properly rewards normal working hours and overtime.
  6. Read the rest of this entry »

TED Global: Making Global Labor Fair

Vodpod videos no longer available.

TED Global: Auret van Heerden, posted with vodpod