LER Professor Raises Awareness of the Plight of Garment Workers in El Salvador
A recently released report by Mark Anner, Associate Professor of Labor and Employment Relations and Director of the Center for Global Workers’ Rights, sheds new light on violations of basic rights of thousands of garment industry workers in El Salvador by some of the United States largest clothing companies.
"The nature of the violations of workers' rights and the number of violations are extreme," said Anner. "The violence that is directed at workers is bad and getting worse."
According to Anner, factory owners and corrupt labor union representatives and government officials are suppressing better pay and working conditions for garment laborers as part of a global competition to cut costs and corners in order to win contracts with major clothing brands. Some factory managers regularly use violence, including murder, to intimidate workers who attempt to exert their rights. A recent development is the employment of street gangs by managers to assault union leaders and members.
"A lot of workers are caught in a vicious cycle with factories facing tighter and tighter margins that lead to lower wages and greater intimidation," said Anner.
Anner suggests that if major companies operating in El Salvador, including such global brands as Hanes and Nike, would increase what they pay the contractors who make their apparel, workers would ultimately benefit.
"Brands can do a lot to lessen this race to the bottom," Anner said. "They could pay a little more and add more stability in contracts, which would go a long way in helping workers."
According to Anner, El Salvador is not alone in facing this rise in workers' rights suppression. "We are seeing similar problems in other places in Central America -- Honduras and Guatemala -- and we are seeing it in Asia, especially in Bangladesh and Cambodia," he said.
Anner has spent several years researching worker movements and labor practices in El Salvador. From 2012 to 2013, he and his colleague conducted a series of in-depth interviews with workers, union and worker organization representatives, factory monitors, lawyers and labor rights experts, as well as factory owners and managers. Anner himself lived in El Salvador for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s and was the target of anti-union violence during that period.