From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Open Letter To Harper From The Women Of Honduras

Choloma, Cortés, August 12, 2011
The Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper, Prime Minister of Canada;
Mr. Porfirio Lobo Sosa, President of Honduras;
Mr. Africo Madrid, Secretary of State for the Interior;
The International Community;
Especially to the Honduran people:

The Honduran Women’s Collective, CODEMUH, has continually and systematically produced information about the vulnerable position faced by workers in the maquila industry in Honduras, about the violation of human and labour rights, and the damages done to the health of workers by their work activities, especially in the company Gildan Activewear, a transnational company owned by Canadians. This information has been given to governments and the entities responsible for labour law enforcement in Honduras; national and international social movements and organizations; human rights protection systems; and the Fair Labour Association (FLA).

We have taken our cases to judicial bodies, both national and international, using legal channels in a responsible way. We have used international and inter-American systems, investigating, documenting, informing, publicizing, raising awareness and presenting proposals so that the entities responsible for applying justice would act. These entities should implement monitoring, follow up and prevention actions for effective protection that ensures human and labour rights for the working population. In addition, we have alerted these bodies to the fact that Gildan Activewear is violating the Constitution of the Honduran Republic and other labour laws, by implementing long workdays and a system of unachievable production quotas.

Prime Minister Harper, there have been constant reports of Canadian company Gildan Activewear’s anti-organizing and anti-union policies, among other labour violations. For example, Gildan El Progreso in Honduras closed in 2004 to avoid the certification of a union, and recently in the Dominican Republic there have been reports of the same policies with regards to the trade union there. Other reports have surfaced of violations of other human and labour rights of workers, such as the right to live without violence, the right to work, health and life.
                                                                                                                                                                      Presently, Gildan Activewear is contravening the legal regulations for labour, with regards to treaties and
international conventions that protect occupational health and safety, by implementing 4x4 shifts in their factories, where workers work for 4 days straight, 11.5 hours per day, and then have 4 days off. With this system, it’s common that on their days off, workers do extra hours, up to 2 day shifts or 2 night shifts. This means that the work week can be 69 hours long, with a salary of $89.99 US Dollars (L$1700 Lempiras)per week.                                                                                                                                                                                     
The production goals or quotas imposed by Gildan Activewear are the highest in the industry in Honduras. To earn $89.99 per week, workers have to produce 550 dozen pieces every day, and are exposed to awkward postures, executing up to 40,000 repetitive movements in their joints, tendons, and muscles per day. These conditions produce Occupational Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSI). There is clear exploitation of workers in poor countries, juxtaposed with reporting that sales have been high during the 2011 fiscal year. In Honduras, Gildan does not pay taxes because they are exempt, so it is absurd when we see that a company with such a high level of exploitation of the work force has been applauded as one of the 50 best Canadian corporations and one of the 20 most responsible companies.

Based on these problems, workers from Gildan Activewear who are members of CODEMUH have presented proposals, and have asked the national authorities of the Labour and Social Security Secretariat to do an ergonomic inspection and evaluation of the textile and clothing manufacturing companies.
                                                                                                                                                                           CODEMUH has also presented thematic reports to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights to Highest Attainable Standard of Physical, Mental Health. We have also presented a complaint to the Fair Labour Association, denouncing the dangerous conditions for safety, hygiene, lack of ergonomics and work organization, low salaries, lack of pay for overtime and other benefits, as well as discrimination and workplace harassment.

.CODEMUH has received complaints from more than 100 workers at Gildan Activewear. Of this group, 20 workers have rulings for a change in workstations, recommending a prohibition of repetitive movements in their shoulders, ifting their arms above shoulder level, alternating seated and standing postures, and performance of exercises every 2 hours. As well, 15 workers have received rulings qualifying their Occupational Risks with a Partial Damage Percentage given as a result of an occupational injury, all of them with MSIs. These rulings have been given by the Honduran Social Security Institute. This shows that work conditions and work organization damage the health of workers, especially with relation to the length of the work day and production goal system.
                                                                                                                                                                            Given these facts, Mr. Prime Minister, and considering that your visit to Honduras is to promote a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between Honduras and Canada, we propose the following:
1. The Free Trade agreements that Honduras has signed with “first world” or “developed” countries, especially North American countries, have only brought higher levels of discrimination, labour exploitation, accidents and occupational illnesses, as well as making the working population poorer, especially young women.

2. Free Trade Agreements are conceived and designed fundamentally so that transnational companies and their registered brands can exploit the working population and produce huge profits, totally oblivious to the fact that in order to obtain their production and profits, there are people, women and men, who risk their lives, and that there are labour and human rights laws that must be respected. We demand that you ask promptly for a report on labour and human rights conditions for the women and men who work at Gildan Activewear installations in Honduras; and that the Canadian government monitors working conditions for workers with Canadian transnationals.

The Canadian government must force companies to comply with national laws, international conventions and international treaties to do with human and labour rights and corporate social responsibility. As well, companies must perform ergonomic studies of work stations with the active participation of workers and organizations with experience in occupational health and safety, such as CODEMUH, with the objective of correcting any deficiencies.

Taking into account that for Honduras, Free Trade Agreements have meant higher levels of exploitation, of labour nd human rights violations, loss of job sources, higher labour risks, deepening of poverty and other problems: we denounce and condemn that Honduras is proceeding to ratify a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Canada without even studying the impacts of CAFTA.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                Jobs Yes, BUT WITH DIGNITY!

For more information:
CODEMUH: 011-504-2669-1180
Maria Luisa Regalado, General Coordinator, mobile: 011-504-9620-2032 or 011-504-3314-9354

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