Magazine article The Progressive

Independent Monitoring in El Salvador

Magazine article The Progressive

Independent Monitoring in El Salvador

Article excerpt

San Salvador

A Salvadoran shirt factory could change the way industries built on sweatshop labor operate--if it doesn't shut down first.

David Wang, the owner of the Mandarin International plant, has agreed to allow human-rights groups to monitor the working conditions in his factory. That's unprecedented in the city's walled San Marcos Free Trade Zone. So is Wang's agreement to rehire the six union leaders he fired last year. But the story does not have a happy ending--so far.

Wang agreed to the monitoring scheme in March, bowing to pressure from the Gap clothing chain, a major customer. But Wang has repeatedly postponed rehiring the unionists, who have been blacklisted and can't find work in other maquiladoras. He maintains that he does not have enough work.

Aside from the Gap and outdoor clothing chain Eddie Bauer, most of the big-name U.S. firms that used to buy shirts from Mandarin have not placed orders this year. Companies that have neglected to order clothing from Mandarin include department-store chain J.C. Penney, women's sportswear maker Liz Claiborne, and women's clothing retailer Casual Corner.

"No American company is anxious to make this succeed," says Charles Kernaghan, the apparel-industry gadfly whose New York City-based National Labor Committee exposed conditions at Mandarin.

If independent monitoring fails at Mandarin, "it would clear the field for them to return to business-as-usual," says Kernaghan. Under personnel manager Luis Amaya, a former Salvadoran army colonel, business-as-usual meant running the factory like a military installation, according to the Archdiocese of San Salvador's human-rights office. …

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