“ Empleo si, pero con dignidad!”
The chant comes from a group of about 40 women in Choloma, Honduras, who have assembled outside the offices of Delta Apparel, a multinational garment company. Calling for “jobs, but with dignity,” they are demanding that the company reinstate three workers who were fired. The workers say the firings are illegal and discriminatory because they suffered from workplace injuries.
The sun is hot and a man stands beside the rally selling bags of water. The women pass a megaphone around and take turns leading chants.
The rally was coordinated by the Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH), a grassroots women’s rights group that organizes women working in the maquiladora sector to defend themselves against workers’ rights violations, which are systemic across the industry.
Cheap labour and free trade zones form the backbone of the maquila business model. Maquilas are factories in Latin America where commodities are produced for export while being exempted from various taxes, duties, and tariffs. In Honduras, neoliberal policies – in particular, corporate, municipal, income, and fuel tax exemptions – have contributed to the underfunding of health and education systems, which the government is now working to privatize.
Mass protests are unrolling against a backdrop of rising costs for housing, electricity, and food that make it very difficult for many Hondurans to get by. Families making minimum wage can only afford 41 percent of the basic family food basket, according to studies by the Asociación de Consumidores de Honduras. The food basket – a list of 30 tax-exempted basic goods – is one of two measures in Honduras for calculating the cost of living.
Honduran workers report that while there is a national labour code, parts of it are not applied to the maquila industry. Maquilas don’t pay the same minimum wage as companies producing goods for the national economy, they say. Maquila workers make poverty wages – approximately 7,600 lempiras per month (about $433 Canadian), as mandated for the industry for 2019.
“What’s going to happen when they privatize health and reduce social security?” asks one maquila worker about the right-wing National Party of Honduras headed by President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH). “Fuera JOH!” (JOH Out!) is found graffitied across the city of Choloma, which plays host to a large industrial park and export processing zone.
Women labourers in the maquilas also face an increased risk of gender-based violence, working 11-hour shifts that force them to travel early in the morning or late at night. Laws against gender-based violence in Honduras are being relaxed even though, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the country has the second-highest rate of violent deaths for women in Latin America. Gains achieved years ago by the feminist movement are under attack. The government recently approved changes to the penal code that weaken prison sentences for femicide and decriminalize forms of spousal violence.
But thanks to organizations like CODEMUH, women are becoming empowered to protect themselves against workplace and societal violence through collective power.
CODEMUH has been organizing to transform harmful practices in the maquila sector for over 20 years. Their workshops help women address workplace violence, occupational health and safety issues, and harassment inside and outside the workplace. They also provide legal support, organize community actions, and carry out media relations.
THE CASE OF CANADIAN COMPANY GILDAN ACTIVEWEAR INC.
One of the companies CODEMUH is speaking out against is the Montreal-based clothing company Gildan Activewear. The company currently operates eight garment factories in Honduras, in addition to its dyeing factories and other warehouses, according to its website. Though the company is best known for manufacturing plain T-shirts for other brands to print their logos on, it now owns a variety of brands, including American Apparel, Anvil, Kushyfoot, and Alstyle, which helped it bring in U.S. $2.9 billion in revenue in 2018.
Gildan boasts of a business model whereby the company owns and operates the production process. “This direct control of almost the entire manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished products, allows the Company to ensure that responsible and sustainable practices are deployed throughout the complete value chain,” reads its website.
Gildan’s current corporate social responsibility practices have emerged as a response to a long history of labour rights violations by the company. For two decades, Gildan has faced accusations of mistreating its workers in Honduras and elsewhere.
In 2002, the CBC television program Disclosure reported that Gildan workers in Honduras were exposed to harmful fabric dust, forced into taking pregnancy tests, and fired for attempting to organize unions. Gildan denied the allegations.
In 2003, the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) released a report co-authored by the Honduran Independent Monitoring Team that highlighted low wages and a lack of freedom of association as major issues for Honduran workers in Gildan’s facilities. The report notes that in November 2002, Gildan fired close to 45 workers just 10 days after a labour application was filed with the Ministry of Labour to register a union.
Gildan’s response to the report was heavy-handed. It threatened legal action against MSN, and one year later – in November 2003 – another 37 workers were fired at the same factory in El Progreso for attempting to organize a union. Then Gildan announced that it would be closing the factory and the Fair Labor Association put Gildan’s membership under review, eventually resulting in a negotiated plan for remedy with Gildan.
Today, workers continue to voice concerns surrounding the psychological and physical harm they experience at the hands of Gildan. They say the work is destroying workers’ bodies.
In an interview with Briarpatch, Gildan’s director of corporate communications and marketing, Geneviève Gosselin, acknowledges that, in the garment industry, workers do face risks of developing musculoskeletal disorders due to poor ergonomics.
“There are a number of things we do in order to reduce these risks and provide the best working environment for our employees,” she says.
Gildan boasts of having health and safety committees across its factories, yet according to CODEMUH director Maria Luisa Regalado, the committee representative is only called in when there is an inspection, in order to participate in a photo-op.
Despite concerns documented in the past 15 years, Gildan’s four-day, 11-hour shifts are still in place, which Regalado says harm workers’ health and violate the national labour code’s provisions surrounding paid overtime and hours of work.
Gosselin says the work schedule is widely used in the textile industry. “Our employees generally appreciate this schedule and ask that it be maintained,” she says.
While Gildan claims to schedule exercise breaks for workers, Regalado says that workers must also find time to clean their machines during the scheduled five-minute stretch breaks. Workers say sometimes breaks aren’t respected by supervisors.
“It’s like an orange,” says Ana,* a worker in a Gildan factory. “You squeeze the orange and all you have is a peel. It’s like squeezing and squeezing until you have no juice.”
Ana suffers from partial disability of 32 percent of her body, according to her medical assessment issued by the Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS). This “assessed degree of disability” is a measure used to determine eligibility for disability benefits. She has been diagnosed with rotator cuff syndrome and cervicobrachialgia, which causes pain, numbness, weakness, and swelling in the neck and arm.
Before she went to CODEMUH, Ana says there were times when she would cry in pain in front of her workstation.
“But I thought of my kids. I knew I had to go to work, fill the quota, and go home,” she says.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
PLATFORMS FOR PEOPLE, NOT PROFIT
Digital platforms boast that they’ve “democratized” cultural production. But what would truly democratic platforms look like in Canada?
ORGANIZING THROUGH LOSS IN THE HEART OF OIL COUNTRY
The story of climate justice organizing in Alberta, at the heart of the tarsands, is the story of a group of young activists learning what it means to lose, and keep on fighting
GROWING THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
How unions are using community gardens to engage members, nourish communities, and help strikers weather the picket line
A NEW ERA FOR OLD CROW
In the Yukon’s northernmost community, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is reckoning with how to preserve their land and culture, amid a warming climate and an influx of tourists
“At Least Hookers Get Wages”
The risky business of sex work in the gig economy
The Literal – And Literary – Futures We Build
Briarpatch editor Saima Desai talks to two judges of our Writing in the Margins contest about Idle No More and MMIWG, ethical kinship, writing queer sex, and their forthcoming work.
The Cost Of A T-Shirt
In Honduras, women maquila workers are fighting back against the multinational garment companies that they say are endangering their health and safety.
Milking Prison Labour
Canada’s prison farms are being reopened. But when prisoners will be paid pennies a day, and the fruits of their labour will likely be exported for profit, there’s little to celebrate.
Bringing Back The Beat
In mainstream media, labour journalism has been replaced by financial reporting and business sections. But journalism students are raising the labour beat from the grave.
There's No Journalism On A Dead Planet
Corporate media owners are killing local newspapers – which is making it impossible for everyday people to understand the on-the-ground impacts of the climate crisis
Secuestros, abusos y violaciones a migrantes en su paso por México
A pesar de las ofertas del gobierno mexicano de auxiliar e incluso ofrecer refugio a los miles de migrantes centroamericanos que se dirigen hacia Estados Unidos con tal de que transitaran ordenadamente por el país, la caravana ha sido objeto de abusos, delitos del orden común e intentos de secuestro. Además, no se les ha brindado suficiente asistencia sanitaria ni la información pertinente, por lo que continúan su trayecto en condiciones de vulnerabilidad cada día mayores.
Un fenómeno con responsables políticos que sólo callan
El periodista salvadoreño Óscar Martínez no alberga mucha esperanza de que la caravana migrante tenga éxito en su pretensión de llegar a Estados Unidos en busca de mejores condiciones de vida. Sin embargo, dice comprender el impulso de conservación que mueve a miles de centroa mericanos a escapar de sus países, donde la clase política se dedica a robar impunemente. También se muestra escéptico sobre la actitud de Enrique Peña Nieto y de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, quienes les han dedicado sólo un par de frases en su afán de contener el flujo de personas hacia territorio estadunidense. Además, teme por la suerte de los 7 mil centroamericanos porque en materia de tragedias, dice, “México siempre sorprende”.
'Este es el éxodo del hambre'
Los cientos de hondureos que integran la Caravana del Migrante que parti de San Pedro Sula, Honduras, rumbo a Estados Unidos el sbado 13, concitaron el apoyo de los guatemaltecos, pero al llegar a la frontera con Mxico las autoridades migratorias les cerraron el paso. Tal accin comienza a preocupar a los pobladores de la ciudad fronteriza de Tecn Umn, quienes temen que los hondureos se queden en territorio guatemalteco.
Trump tuitea y México obedece
Una vez ms el gobierno de Enrique Pea Nieto se doblega ante el discurso belicoso del presidente Donald Trump, con lo que convierte al pas en el filtro migratorio de Estados Unidos. Esta vez la puntilla fue la Caravana del Migrante. En el verano de 2014, la administracin del mexiquense se congraci con la de Barack Obama al lanzar el llamado Plan Frontera Sur para controlar los flujos migratorios. A partir de entonces las deportaciones de indocumentados centroamericanos no han cesado. Slo durante los primeros ocho meses de este ao, el Instituto Nacional de Migracin detuvo a 77 mil 382 centroamericanos y deport al 90%. La sumisin total.
La resiliencia como norte
SIN IMPORTAR LOS AÑOS QUE LLEVE UNA EMPRESA EN EL MERCADO, PODER ADAPTARSE A LOS NUEVOS TIEMPOS ES CLAVE PARA EL ÉXITO.
Belleza y altruismo
El doctor Juan Carlos Arellano Muñoz no sólo dirige CLV Beauty Clinique, el sitio ideal para aquellas personas que desean lucir un rostro espectacular y perfecto, sino también ha destacado al fusionar los campos de la belleza y la filantropía. Nos platica sobre esto y su exitosa carrera.
Roatán Próspera Residences, Honduras: Zaha Hadid Architects
Zaha Hadid Architects with AKT II and Hilson Moran have developed a digital architectural platform to create homes for Roatán Próspera.
Lesser Known PYRAMIDS from the Mayan Civilisation
The Mayan civilisation was a Mesoamerican civilisation that grew up in the tropical lowlands of today’s Guatemala and ultimately reached the countries of Belize and parts of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. It spread across the timeline of 2000 BC to 900 AD, reaching the peak of its power in the sixth century AD when the Maya population is said to have reached a strength of 20,00,000.
Ebrard, su cuñada y Banco Azteca construyen el futuro... en Honduras
Banco Azteca “dispersará” 31 millones de dólares que el gobierno de López Obrador tiene destinados para los programas Sembrando Vida y Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro en Honduras. Así lo estipula un convenio impulsado por el canciller Marcelo Ebrard. La encargada de operar la distribución de los recursos en ese país será su cuñada Viviana Bueso, quien fue reclutada unos meses antes por Ricardo Salinas Pliego como gerente de Banco Azteca en la nación centroamericana.
EL ENTUSIASMO POR EL CONSUMO DE VINO EN CENTROAMÉRICA EMERGE DE LA MANO DE INICIATIVAS CREATIVAS ENCAMINADAS A EDIFICAR UNA CULTURA AUTÉNTICA Y LLENA DE MATICES.