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Do Blood and Sweat Stain Your Shirt? Chong Won and Phils Jeon

The Workers Rights Consortium, an investigative body set up by participating colleges, universities and nongovernmental organizations to document conditions at a variety of factories that make clothing for Americans, recently released its report on labor conditions at the Chong Won Fashion (a.k.a C. Woo) factory, which produces garments for various Universities as well as WalMart stores, and the Phils. Jeon factory, which produces garments for Byford, DKNY, Hanes and Bobson. I encourage you to read the entire report, but allow me to share a few brief excerpts from the report here:

The WRC investigators found serious and ongoing labor rights violations at Chong Won, including minimum wage violations, forced overtime, violations of workers’ right to unionize and bargain collectively, and, of particular concern, collusion by factory management with government agents in violence against workers engaged in a lawful and peaceful strike. Chong Won’s practices in these areas violate Filipino law, university codes of conduct, and applicable corporate codes, including Wal-Mart’s “Standards for Suppliers.” With respect to freedom of association, Chong Won’s misdeeds are among the most egregious and persistent that the WRC has encountered. To date, the response of Wal-Mart and other buyers to the violations that have been identified at Chong Won has been entirely inadequate.

The WRC Assessment Team examined payroll records from July of 2005 to October of 2006 and found that 30 to 40% of the factory’s workforce during this time period earned less than the regional minimum wage. These workers received salaries that ranged from 180 to 242 Philippine pesos (US$3.66 – 4.96) for a standard eight-hour workday (or 46 to 62 cents an hour, US). The regional minimum wage is 272 pesos (US$5.53) a day…. Compounding these wage violations, all of the employees shown in the payroll with salaries ranging between 180 and 242 pesos a day are also shown to regularly perform overtime (of two or more hours a day). Since these employees’ overtime hours are calculated using their daily wage rate, all Chong Won employees who are receiving illegally low salaries for regular hours are also receiving illegally low overtime compensation.
The WRC’s conclusions in this area were further corroborated in discussions with Wal-Mart’s local compliance officer, who stated that audits the retailer had previously conducted at Chong Won had yielded similar findings concerning failure to pay the minimum wage and excessive use of apprentices.

A series of Chong Won employee interviews showed that Chong Won workers have been forced to perform overtime without the right to refuse, in violation of the Labor Code of the Philippines. A series of Chong Won employee interviews and examination of the company’s payroll records also showed that workers have performed amounts of overtime in excess of what is allowed under university codes of conduct and under Wal-Mart’s code. Payroll records as recently as October 11 to October 25, 2006 showed that some employees had performed between eighteen and twenty-seven and a half hours of overtime a week. Workers testified that when orders are high at the factory, management requests that workers perform shifts of up to twenty-four hours at a stretch, approximately every two weeks. All workers interviewed stated that they had found it very difficult to decline overtime and that in some cases workers were verbally reprimanded or suspended from work for up to fifteen days for declining.

… Most university codes limit overtime to a maximum of twelve hours per week, an amount exceeded in a single day, in some instances, at Chong Won. Most corporate codes also limit hours per week and/or per day. Wal-Mart’s code of conduct prohibits workdays in excess of fourteen hours daily; this is a high limit relative to many other corporate codes, but nonetheless a limit exceeded by Chong Won.

Shortly after the president of the union declined to end the picket, the group of roughly 50 Jantro [contract security agency] security guards, armed with shields and bamboo clubs, known as “yantok”, stepped forward. Further dialogue then ensued between the lead PEZA [Philippine Economic Zone Authority] police officer and union officials, in which the PEZA officer again requested that the strike be cancelled and asserted that the strike was illegal. In response, the union officials asked if there was an order from DOLE proclaiming the strike illegal. The lead PEZA officer, who witnesses testified became visibly enraged by the union official’s response, shouted to the striking workers that they must disband the picket line so that the police and security guards could escort a group of replacement workers into the factory. When the picketing workers refused to disband, the Jantro guards attacked the striking workers. During the melee, more than 40 workers, the strong majority of them women, were struck by the guards with bamboo clubs. As a result, fourteen workers suffered serious injuries to their heads, arms, and legs. The WRC reviewed photographs, which corroborated claims by workers of severe bruises, swelling, and cuts sustained in the confrontation.

On September 27, 2006, Chong Won management and PEZA launched a second assault on the picket line…. Following several minutes of debate between the PEZA officer and worker representatives, the private Jantro security guards began beating their shields with their clubs, apparently to communicate a final warning to the striking workers. Then, moving in formation, the Jantro guards marched up to the picket line and began assaulting workers with their clubs and shields. Twenty-two workers suffered injuries during the attack, primarily to their heads and legs; many required medical treatment….

It is important to understand that the use of force to disband the lawful picket line at Chong Won was a joint enterprise of Chong Won management and PEZA (and, therefore, of the Filipino government, of which PEZA is a part). PEZA’s violent and unlawful assaults on the striking workers were carried out at the request, and with the support, of Chong Won management, as illustrated by the central role played by the Chong Won Production Manager. Management made no attempt to deny this, openly acknowledging in interviews with the WRC that they solicited and welcomed PEZA’s actions.

The Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) – one of the nation’s leading labor rights non-governmental organizations – has been supporting the workers at Chong Won since 2000. Over the last five years, WAC has faced violence, threats of violence, and other tactics of intimidation. WAC’s Board Chairman, Bishop Alberto Ramento, was murdered in October of 2006. Other WAC staff and board members have received death threats via phone and in person….

Most recently, during the strikes at Chong Won and Phils Jeon (another garment factory in the zone), Jantro Security Guards, at the order of PEZA, used force to escort replacement workers through the picket line, hitting the lawfully striking workers and SCW organizers in the head and legs with bamboo clubs. One SCW organizer and one Phils Jeon worker needed medical treatment after sustaining severe blows to the head….

Needless to say, the violence against trade unionists and labor rights advocates, and the decline of the rule of law, also hinders the ability of the WRC and other monitors to enforce codes of conduct at factories in the Philippines. In a climate of violence and judicial impunity, workers are often too fearful to lodge complaints, witnesses too fearful to talk to investigators, and investigators themselves constrained by threats to their own security. In the Chong Won case, the WRC’s investigation was only feasible because of the courage of workers and worker rights advocates associated with the case, and because WRC staff and local investigators were willing to proceed under adverse circumstances, albeit with security precautions.

The Clean Clothes Campaign reports with more on the situation:

The police of the Cavite Export Processing Zone and private security guards are reported to have assaulted striking workers protesting outside the Chong Won Fashion Inc. and the Phils Jeon Garments, Inc. factories. On several different occasions, workers were reportedly hit with clubs on the head and kicked all over their bodies. Since the start of a strike on September 25, food, water and clothing supplies to the workers have been blocked and their makeshift tents were dismantled despite the fact that the union received permission to strike under Department of Labor and Employment regulations….

At Phils Jeon Garments, Inc, another Korean-owned factory in the Cavite EPZ, the lawful elected union met the same kind of problems as at Chong Won. Management refused to start CBA negotiations, instead questioning the legitimacy of the union Kaisahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Phils. Jeon. However, the DOLE has declared the union as sole and exclusive bargaining representatives in a final and executory decision. Since July the Phils Jeon union has been demonstrating daily in protest of management’s continued refusal to begin CBA negotiations. On September 25 and 27, PEZA police, Philippine National Police from Rosaria Municipal police station and Jantro security guards violently dispersed and brutally beat the striking workers of both the Chong Won and the Phils Jeon factories, injuring at least 50 union members. Food deliveries to the picketing workers at both sites have been blocked by PEZA since.

Contact information:

Address: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611.
Phone: 1-800-925-6278

Address: Retail Consumer Services
P.O. Box 3013
Winston-Salem, NC 27102
Phone: 1-800-832-0594

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