The Kuk Dong Story: When the Foxes Guards the Hen House

Paper born: March 25, 2001

 

By David M. Boje, Grace Ann Rosile, &  J. Dámaso Miguel Alcantara Carrillo

New Mexico State University  

March 25, 2001

 

ABSTRACT

We traveled to Atlixco, to the Kukdong factory and conducted interview with townspeople, officials, and two women who worked for Kukdong. We did not interview women (or men) currently working for Kukdong, since to do so, would put their employment (and mostly likely their safety) in jeopardy. We examined four monitoring reports done on the Kukdong International factory in Atlixco, Mexico against our own fact-finding and interviews. These are the Verité (2001), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC see Austermuhle, 2000 & Kepne, 2000), International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF, see Alcalde, 2001), and  Workers Rights Consortium (WRC, 2001b, c, d) monitoring studies. Each sent on-site monitors to assess this one factory.    What found four major areas not covered in previous reports.

1. A Mr. Lee, a Kukdong factory owner, split off from three other Koreans owners of the Kukdong International main factory facility and opened up approximately ten other factories around Atlixco. These factories do out-sourced production to the main (Kukdong) factory, and we assume have been kept secret, since none of the monitoring reports mention their existence. We would like to find out if U.S. campus apparel is being produced in Mr. Lee's factories, then sent to Kukdong main factory for final processing, then the to the U.S. university campus apparel stores. The conditions in the Mr. Lee factories are alleged by town officials and residents we interviewed to be significantly worse than those of the more model factory, Kukdong International. The supply chain of these approximately eleven factories we allege are all part of Kukdong International, but only the main factory is being monitored. It does no good to monitor one link in the chain, when production and management moves from one to the other.

2. Our second addition to previous reports is to provide additional background on how the FROC-CROC union, the State of Puebla, and some 300 Korean maquiladora factories have formed a united front to prevent any independent unions from being started. After our study, the SITEMEX independent union was voted into at the main Kukdong factory. However, as this happened, Nike stopped renewing orders for campus apparel with the Kukdong factory. We have heard no word about Reebok's orders.  This means that while the workers won their right to have an independent union, the first ever for all Korean maquiladora in Mexico, the result may be the end of Nike and possibly Reebok orders to the factory. And in that way Nike, Reebok, Mr. Lee and the other Kukdong owners can simply relocate production contracts to non-union factories. This is the usual result in Mexico, when workers protest and organize.

3. Our third addition to previous reports is that during the police action on January 12th, two of the women who were beaten with shields, clubs, and fists, based upon our interviews with two eye-witnesses, were alleged to have lost the lives of two unborn babies as a direct result of the violence. No newspaper or monitoring report has reported the event. We support this claim with interview transcript of the two eye witnesses. We also found out that the women who were brutalized on January 12th, 2001 were kept away from the media for about 15 days, so management could keep the situation under control. At the very least, we believe that Nike, Reebok, and Kukdong management, as well as the State Governor of Pueblo have liability for the death of these unborn children. We are seeking independent verification of this accusation.

4. Our fourth addition to previous monitoring reports that the release of the four monitoring reports, particularly the WRC and ILRF ones, have put significant worldwide pressure on Reebok, Nike, Kukdong International, as well as the State and Federal government of Mexico to allow the independent union to continue to organize.  We concluded in March, 2001, that once this public spotlight is withdrawn, the ability of the independent union to continue was doubtful.  We based our assumption upon a detailed analysis of transcripts of interviews we collected during our visit. With the events of September 11th, the attention of the anti-sweatshop movement has been elsewhere, and there was little or no protest we could find when, on October 17, 2001 Vada Manager of Nike sent Dr. Boje a letter informing him that Nike would not be renewing orders at the Kukdong factory for the time being.

The paper traces the story of Kukdong, as hundreds of (mostly) young women workers at the factory contracted to Nike and Reebok, did rise up to empower their own independent struggle for human rights, taking over the factory for three days, and putting up with brutality, threat, and intimidation until finally on September 21st, their independent union was official recognized. But, this recognition came in the aftermath of September 11th, which overshadowed their victory. And, it is predictable that Nike would simply move on to yet another factory location and begin the process all over again with young women who do not know they can achieve independence. 

Finally this story is unusual since this is the first ever maquiladora in Mexico with an independent union. But then with the withdrawal of orders, the result of the scenario turns predictable.  This is the story of our involvement and the efforts of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) to provoke the Fair Labor Association (FLA) into types of monitoring it had never done before.  Dr. Boje, for example, has helped to found a USAS chapter at New Mexico State University.

This is David Boje. I am David and Nike is my Goliath.  It is my second trip to the State of Puebla, Mexico and my first to the City of Atlixco.  I first went to Puebla as a faculty advisor with a group of some 50 MBA students from Loyola Marymount University to tour the VW factory in Puebla, in 1993. On March 26th, 2001 I began my second trip, this time traveling with Grace Ann Rosile and J. Dámaso Miguel Alcantara Carrillo.  Carrillo once lived in the State of Puebla and knew Atlixco, the city where Koreans had constructed several Kukdong International factories to make garments for Nike and Reebok.

The purpose of this essay is to discuss the ability of the consumer, as well as the academic, to navigate the complex and convoluted politics of sweatshop monitoring.  Monitoring produces reports and promises by corporations to make reforms, but when women actually stand up for their rights as human beings, and claim the right to living pay, food without worms, and the right to organize, what happens?  In the current global economy, the monitoring reports are filed, the promises are filed, and then the transnational corporations and the subcontract factory owners, merely cut and run, to open up some new sweatshop, away from the gaze of activists, citizens, consumers, and corporate-paid monitors. More than this it is the story of "real" empowerment, when women sweatshop workers, grow their own power. There are many monitoring firms, who are paid by corporations to issue reports to the public. In this study, we contrast four such reports, all completed on the same factory:

1.      Verité (2001),

2.      PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC see Austermuhle, 2000 & Kepne, 2000),

3.      International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF, see Alcalde, 2001), and

4.      Workers Rights Consortium (WRC, 2001b, c),

This is the story of what happens when the fox guards the hen house. The word "hen" is a slur, a derogatory, used by the State-sanctioned union enforcer, as he spoke to a Kukdong worker.  Hens and foxes is a trope, in use, part of the language of Kukdong.  The hens are the workers, 85% of whom are young and female. There are other foxes such as the national union, the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (FROC-CROC) who signed a bargaining agreement with the Korean owners of Kukdong International to set aside rights of workers, that are otherwise commonly agreed to by other foreign investors in Mexican maquiladora factories.

Asking a corporation to hire and pay a monitor, who by any other name is a consulting firm, is like asking the fox to hire a monitor to guard its hen house.  It is a tale of the clash of corporate and independent monitors, between Verité, PWC, and ILRF who are the foxes, FLA who accredits Verité as its first ever monitor (to respond to this crisis in Atlixco), and WRC who monitors the activity of the foxes and foxes' consultants. 

But what is unique about this story is the hens got together and with a few roosters, did organize their own independent union, the Kukdong Workers Coalition (KWC). And the women did win the battle to get their independent union to be recognized. But, will this make any difference in the long run, if Nike and Reebok, just cut and run off to find a new hen house?  Finally, this is a story of violence and terror, used to intimidate young women working for the Korean-owned subcontractor.  It is a story of human triumph over the forces of transnational corporate terror and their alliances with state forms of terror.  This is a story of peaceful resistance by the disempowered to become powerful resistors to the hegemony of global capitalism.  It is non-violent resistance to violence perpetrated against women workers.  Ironically, this story of  non-violent resistance to terror, occurs before, during, and after, an overshadowing story of the events of September 11th.

We are continuing to analyze the transcripts of the interviews we did with two Kukdong women. Here are some excerpts. Note that we are translating back and forth between English and Spanish in the conversation. This is the all English translation of all several exchanges. Note that there is information here about two miscarriages that are not reported in the FLA's monitor report (Verité), or for that matter in any of the four major reports and follow-ups. 

There is also detail that we will add about the lack of good faith on the part of the Korean management negotiations with the women workers during their takeover of the factory. And there is a definite story of attempts by management to mislead and control the media, by for example, keeping reporters away from the women who were brutalized, and especially away from the two women who had miscarriages. The women we interviewed support the WRC claim that there was child labor employed in the factory.  We begin with the issue of worms (maggots) in the food and lack of bathroom rights, move to the manipulation of the good faith negotiations by the women, the shutdown and takeover of the factory by the women from January 10th to January 12th, to the issue of the violence and the death of the two unborn children.  We then look again in the transcript at the issue of media control, and end with more confirmation of the sexual harassment at the plant.


WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE?

Miguel             She asked me about the interviews.  This kind the interviews for what reason?

Dr. Boje           Uh OK.  It is a good question.

Miguel             Es buena pregunta.

Dr. Boje           For five years, I have been working in this research for Nike Corporation, Rebok Corporation to see the factories conditions if they are good or not good...Purpose of the research is to tell about the women their own story. No trough the media to know the story.  Corporation said the story, no Kukdong story.

...

 

MAGGOTS IN THE FOOD:

Miguel             Huu!.. They say about the food. If they did not finish the food today they give the other day.  Some times we, they found some kind of worms on the food.

Dr. Grace         Uhhh

Miguel             In bad conditions

Dr. Boje           Did you see worms?

Miguel             ¿Did you see worms?

Participant2    Yes

Participant1    In that circumstances, me, I did not eat.

Participant2    Yes, when we bring the worms to Human Resources they said that they were not worms.

Miguel             They said that when they took some worms and they showed to Human Resources Manager. No, no, no they are not worms. Yes they put bad.  And then what other kind of services they offered to you?

...

BATHROOM FREEDOM?

Miguel             Uppp. What happen, What happen with the supervisor? What was the

Problem?

Dr. Boje            Just you have to ask in Spanish.

Miguel             Yea.

Dr. Boje            you say in English.

Every body            Haaaaaa….

Miguel             Oh, yea, with the supervisor ¿Which was the problem? ¿Which was the

Problem?

Participant1            Heee, he did not give us permit to go the bathroom although we were

Working, if we were talking between us, he told us that we should not talk because we came to work, that was our problem.

...

MEDIA MANIPULATION OF THE COVERAGE OF THE FACTORY SITUATION AND SHUTDOWN BY THE WORKERS BY THE FACTORY MANAGEMENT:

Miguel             Do you understand what they said?

Dr. Boje           No

Miguel             The owners, the owners manipulated the movement, and later government through media said.  OK, we need to send the policeman to the company because the workers have made a kidnapping for the owners inside the company.

Dr. Boje           Ohh, OK.

Miguel             Inside the company.  That was the argument or excuse to send the policeman.

Dr. Boje           OK.

Miguel             This is the

Dr. Grace         It is the ridiculous criminal.  The families, they do not know what happen.

Miguel             Ridiculous, They allocate like criminals.

Dr. Boje           What kind of media, newspaper or the radio?

Miguel             All of them.  Newspaper, TV, and the Radio.  Media says, what happen if if we, they says that we are people that create a kidnapping.  We are like criminals.

Dr. Grace         Uhhu

THE STRIKE AND THE FACTORY TAKEOVER BY THE KUKDONG WOMEN:

Dr. Boje           Can you tell them if they have the story of how they had the idea with the workers at the beginning.

Dr. Grace         If they talk to the families before to decided to participate.

Miguel             Yea, for example.

Participant2    Other thing that strike day, the workers covered the doors because we did not permit that Koreans will exit.  From where they escaped? 

Participant2    They escaped.

Participant1    From where, they were with the workers that they did not stay in good fit with us.  From where the Koreans left?

Miguel             So, for the doors of course.

Participant1    To many, well most people said that

Miguel             So, from where they left? until now, they do not know?

Participant1    As there were bricklayer working and they were bringing and going big pots, we think that for that way, they left because Koreans were duty, all their clothes were duty.

Participant2    But what happen?  As the strike started we did not to affect the other workers.  We wanted to dialogue for better package of benefits but Koreans did not accept it, but there was not dialogue.  So, most people were thinking that bricklayer came to work because they needed to work for hold their families, as such as us.  So, workers decided to permit to workers to enter inside company.  Because the problem was not against bricklayer; however, suddenly some body told us that Koreans were out the building with two trucks.  The two trucks were full with persons that they did not participate in the movement.  But why? These persons did not stay with the strike. at least to me, if a Korean there had said me, you know; working, there had told me.   You know, I an m going to give some thing if you are here.  In other words, I am going to pay to you although you are not working.  If I have babies what am I go to do?

...

HOW NEGOTIATIONS DID NOT HAPPEN DURING THE FACTORY TAKEOVER AND TWO WOMEN HAD MISCARRIAGES AS A RESULT OF THE BEATINGS THAT TOOK PLACE:

Participant2    And let me tell you one thing, when we invited to the Koreans to negotiate, definitely they did not accept to negotiate with us.  But do you know why? Because they had their plan made.  For that reason, they did not negotiate.  Koreans stayed all day until 10:30 P.M., after 10:30 P.M. this time, 500 policemen arrived and they were jumping the walls, they did not enter for the door.  They were jumping the walls and they started to hit people.

Participant1    Some coworkers were sleeping.

Participant2    Sleeping, policemen hit every body.  Several Persons were pregnant, there were abortions.

Miguel             Uhh how many abortions were there?

Participant2    I knew as two.

Dr. Grace         Two women had abortion.

Miguel             Do you know what happen?

Dr. Boje           No, tell me about.

Miguel             When, when the Koreans they want to negotiate with the Koreans on the day.  They did not say, every thing was in calm, they just stay in the company, Koreans and the other people two hundred people.  Nine, no Ten thirty (10:30 p.m.) on the night, about five hundred policeman were jumping the walls and then take the soil and hit people.  And two women had abortions.

...

MORE ON KEEPING THE MEDIA FOR COVERING THE STORY OF JUST HOW BRUTALIZED THE WOMEN WHO WENT TO THE HOSPITAL AND THE TWO WHO MISCARRIED WERE (This would have been from January 12th to about January 27th, the hurt women were kept away from the media):

Miguel             After movement, when did came to here? How many days later?

Participant2    The point is that, we had the movement.  We had persons in the Metepec hospital; No body could to enter to see the people in the hospital.  They had every thing under control.  They talk to the media or with each person and they said that nothing was wrong.  Every thing was in calm and correct.

Miguel             But comment is, after the movement, which, how many days thy stayed?

Particapant2   As uhhh… 15 days or more, is it correct?

Participant1    They stayed 15 days.

...

THERE WAS A MAJOR FIRE AT THE FACTORY THAT WAS KEPT OUT OF THE PRESS:

Miguel             it is like plastic, it is like not aluminum, it is some kind of fire is.

Dr. Boje           It is for the heat.  It is for the temperature.

Participant2    Koreans had a fire problem, sorry my husband is fireman and he told me that they had a big fire.  He said that sheet suffered a collapsed and they did not permit to enter any person and media.

Miguel             Fir mans yea.   She says that they had an accident, a fire over there.  They did not permit that newspaper or reporters to enter.  They preferred to lose every thing.

Dr. Boje           Can she described the fire?

Miguel             Her husband is a fireman.

Dr. Boje           was the big fire?

Miguel             The fire was big or small?

Participant2    It was big.  They lost to many packages, the fire problem started at 11:00 P.M. and they finished until next day on the morning.

Miguel             She said that was big fire but exactly, she does not know. They started 11:00 P.M. and they finished around 6:00 A.M. to control the fire.  She says that they lose to many packages.

...

WHY THESE WOMEN LEFT THE COMPANY AND WILL NOT RETURN:

Dr. Boje           Why they did not stay on the company? It is story, it is secret story.

Miguel             For example, why did you decide to exit from the maquila?

Participant2    We.

Miguel             Only for the salary or for other things.?

Participant2    We, for the policemen.   Can you imagine? If we had had some hurt?

Miguel             they decided to leave because they had too much pressure and violence and intimidation.

Participant2    I understand that there was treat against the people that suffered hurt.

...

SEXUAL HARASSMENT:

Miguel             you received some kind of intimidation or as a sexual aggressively from the Koreans Supervisors. 

Participant1    On the strike, Koreans broken all the workers cards.  When we entered, check in, when we exited, we check out.  They destroyed several places.

Particiapant2  He said that if you as woman suffered sexual harassment.  What if a supervisor gives pressure to you?  One times a Korean people and a person from the Union Labor.

Participant1    No.

Participant2    But there was

Participant1    but, there were cases that Koreans Supervisors had some kind of relationship with workers of the Company.

Miguel             They had some kind of sexual harassment.

...

Miguel             For that reason, he says that his mean goal was to invite you to know from original voice the real impression, no through the media, television, newspapers, radio etc Because we need to know what happen with the women.

WE SHOW PHOTOS 1 and 2 (SHOTS OF WORKERS AFTER BEING BEATEN, ONE BEFORE MOVE TO AMBULANCE, ONE IS A SHOT OF WOMEN IN THE AMBULANCE:

Participant2    But, but, but the photos that appear they are not real.   Because they show partnership that they are not real.  We do not know some people that appear on the photos.  So, this is a photo that I do not remember I can not see a photo that show a woman bringing a girl.  She was very hurt in her face.  Other photo shows the policemen following people.

Miguel             Inflammation, she says that carefully because some photos are not real.  She says, I know what is the real situation. Because I know the real circumstance on the problem in that moment.

Dr. Boje           Is it real photo?

Miguel             This is real.

Participant2    How not, you know, because, here only the photo is showing the girl.  May be they took this photo when she was fighting.  When they were inside the company, at least a trivial photo.  Pero las que vienen en ese, esas vienen real y se ve como estan subiendo la camilla hacia la Cruz Roja.

Miguel             For example, she says that may be they are not real photos because only there is a woman.  In reality there were more women with several physical problems.

NOTE: There is much more on the interview tapes. The two former-Kukdong workers agree to dig up some better photos.


 

We turn now to photos and summary of our journey to Atlixco from March 26th to March 31st, 2001. IN particular we tried to document the existence of other factories that were alleged by towns people  and city officials to be links in the supply chain feeding garment production to Kukdong, then to Nike and Reebok, and then shipped for sale to university college campuses.

 

List of Figures with photos of our journey to Atlixco March 26 to March 31st, 2001 (please click on each photo page).

See more photos in Kukdong "slide show"

For Contrast See Nike Web Images of Kukdong Factory Life

Figure 1: Kukdong International of Mexico, S. A. de C.V. MAIN FACTORY SITE

The monitors wrote their reports by inspecting facilities and interviewing workers from this site.

 

Figure 2: Top is Kukdong worker walking home to Atlixco City; Bottom is Kukdong worker riding bus to village outside of Atlixco City.

Each work day 15 to 20 buses transport the workers to villages half an hour to an hour outside of Atlixco.  No transportation is provided to workers from Atlixco City. We did not attempt to interview any of these workers.  There are no photos of the workers we did interview.

Figure 3: Mr. Lee's Pacific Continental Textile of Mexico S. A. de C.V. (PCT) Factory that supplies the Kukdong Main Factory

Our study and interviews revealed that that soon after the main Kukdong International factory opened (see Figure 1), the four partners had significant conflicts and disagreements over the management of the factory. To resolve the disagreement Mr. Lee constructed ten other maquiladora factories that would do out-sourced production for the main Kukdong factory (see Figure One). Figure 3 is a shot of the Pacific Continental Textile Factory.

Figure 4: PCT factory help wanted sign.

Figure 4 shows a help wanted sign explaining the excellent benefit and employment opportunities. In reality Mr. Lee's factories have the most complaints during the month of March, 2001 of all the Kukdong affiliated factories.  Five workers who complained to the local labor office about not receiving their Christmas bonuses, lack of benefits promised, and not being about to recover the one week and in some cases one month wage deposits were fired.  The workers took their case to the Puebla Labor office which has initiated formal judicial proceedings against Mr. Lee.

Figure 5: Top is photo of Kukdong Factory; bottom is Miguel ( J. Dámaso Miguel Alcantara Carrillo ) trying to talk his way inside the Kukdong factory.

In Figure 5, Miguel attempts to get access to the factory for an interview.  Jose Luis Rodriguez (FROC-CROC union representative) came to the gate and told Boje and Carrillo that there was no one there to be interviewed. After Miguel told him we were leaving the next day (Saturday), he said we could stop back on Monday.

Figure 6: PCT factory with female workers bundling stacks of garments to be sent to the Kukdong Main factory.

This is the shot of about eight to ten female workers at Mr. Lee's PCT factory, who are bundling stacks of garments, which from our vantage point look like sweatshirts. Community residents and a local Labor Office attorney we interviewed, said that the production from the PCT factory is sent to the Kukdong factory.  If this allegation is factual, then the implication is that the monitors have only been inspecting one of the eleven or more factories in the Kukdong International supply chain located around Atlixco City.

Figure 7: Mr. Lee's S&J International Factory and help wanted sign.

This is a photo of another of Mr. Lee's factories, S&J International. 

Figure 8: Kukdong Factory garbage dump between factory building and water treatment facility

Outside the main Kukdong factory is a water treatment plant.  Between the main factory buildings and this water treatment plant is where the factory pitches its garbage in a land file about a third of a block in size.  No environmental monitoring occurred in any of the monitoring reports we reviewed.

 

What is the issue here? According to Nike and Reebok moral codes of conduct, all their subcontractors must respect freedom of association, one of the acknowledged human rights. It is the job of monitors such as PWC, to write assurance reports that verify human rights are or are not being violated, and the job of Verité and ILRF to go and sort out a story of what happened and send their monitoring report to the corporate board who pays their contract fees (Reebok and Nike), and to Fair Labor Association (FLA), who asked them to do the monitoring reports so as to verify FLA and the two corporate codes of conduct were or were not in force at one of the Kukdong International maquiladora factories in the city of Atlixco, Mexico.  The bigger issue is the right of women workers in sweatshops contracted to Nike, Reebok and other transnational corporate firms to organize their own representation and have their voices heard around the world. And the right of the women, having stood the test of terror, and had their union voted in, to have some assurance that the transnational corporation will not just cancel its orders (or not renew them), and move on to repeat the same scenario.  Keep in mind that of the 730 Nike factories, we do not know the identity of about 650 of these, nor do we know how many smaller factories are feeding the production of the 730, and exist in even worse conditions.

According to the Time Line we assembled from the four monitoring reports, news accounts, and our own on-site research, as summarized in Figure One, Nike’s monitor PWC had been reporting on the problematic situation in Kuk Dong as early as March of 2000. Nothing, apparently was done, until January 10th, one brave maquiladora factory worker sent a request for help across the Internet, and more attention arrived when news of the beatings of January 12th began to circulate.

Nike’s (2001) web site attests to their own neglect of the Kukdong situation, as do reports by Austermuhle (2000) and Kepne (2000). March 2000 is the same month Kuk Dong began manufacturing sweatshirts for Nike; it then began to make them for Reebok in December 2000 (Verité, 2001: 1). Kukdong is a Korean-owned factory that makes sweatshirts for the Universities of North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, Arizona, Penn State, Georgetown, Michigan State and Oregon, amongst others we do not know (Labor Bulletin, 2001).  In mid-March 2000, there were approximately 1,800 workers at Kuk Dong producing one million sweatshirts for Nike and 40,000 for Reebok last year. These sweatshirts were then sent to various university campus apparel stores and bookstores for sale to students, faculty and staff. Some belong to FLA, others to WRC, and several to both, who have their respective codes of conduct for working conditions under which campus apparel may or may not be manufactured. 

The reports of the two women we interviewed and the local city officials confirm, that when production began in March 2000 the women were promised many benefits, that would materialize in five to six month's time, but few did. Then as production demand increased, the women report that the Korean management turned more brutal, intimidating, and violent. There were as the WRC and Verité studies confirm act of physical violence by Korean managers to the women workers.  The factory became a less attractive place to work, and many town women left. This tipped the balance of employment toward the more rural and younger women brought to the main factory by bus.

As labor conditions worsened at Kukdong International, the number of workers dwindled from 1,800 to fewer than 900 by January 2001 when the strike and factory take-over by the workers began. Women we interviewed complained that they were not getting the benefits promised, the pay was below the legal limits, there were maggots in their food, and there were continued reports of sexual harassment.  

In early March 2001, the factory employed only 600 workers, 585 in production and 85% are women, between the ages of 16 and 23 (Verité, 2001). A significant portion had lied about their age, and were less than 16. However, all records of employees less than 18 years of age were no longer in the files by the time the monitors did their inspection. 

When we did our study of the factory, from March 27th to March 31st, there were 780 workers at the factory and the factory capacity was for 2,500 workers. 

The Short Version of the Story - The Kuk Dong story is about how mostly young women workers struggled against a national union called FROC-CROC, Korean maquiladora owners and managers, and Nike and Reebok corporate PR teams so they might exercise collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them in corporate, FLA, and WRC codes of conduct as well as by Mexican law.

In our study, we found that it was as the rise in complaints against Mr. Lee who had left Kukdong factory management to open about ten other factories around Atlixco, where he could sustain the same and even more brutal conditions than in the main Kukdong factory, that resulted in the State finding that a new union could be voted in at Kukdong. Why? Because it is the complaints at the Mr. Lee factories that went forward and created a Mexico investigation of Korean-owned maquiladoras. The pressure was such that the ambassador from Korea got into the act.

The Story of the Gauntlet - A gauntlet is two parallel lines of men swinging clubs and shields, through whih the panicked women must run to achieve their exit from the factory.  The gauntlet was organized and administered on the evening of January 12th. As the women negotiated and tried to set up their own independent union (SITEKIM, finally named SITEMEX) they were confronted with the violence and force of not only the Police in riot gear, but a goon squad of FROC-CROC state union men.  From January 9 to 11 the young women took over the factory and locked themselves inside.  They tried to talk to the Korean managers inside the factory, but some brick-laying workmen entered and secured the escape of the Korean managers, shortly after the factory takeover had begun.  Family members and friends of the women holding the factory, like it was the Alamo, brought them food and blankets. They also brought the children to be with their working and now protesting mothers. On January 12th, Melquiades Morales Flores, the governor of the state of Puebla, sent 200 Mexican police dressed in full riot gear. The police force was led by Renee Sánchez Juárez, FROC-CROC secretary-general for the state of Puebla. The riot police were led by hired FROC-CROC construction workers, and this group did brutally attack 300, mostly female workers, beating those they could catch, with clubs, and sending 15 to the hospital. In our interviews with two workers and a local labor lawyer who were there, we found out that at least two of the women were pregnant, and two lost their babies as a result of the violent and cruel attack. Despite the brutality, the workers held on and bargained for and signed a contract for an independent union.  But, as we shall see, the State, FROC-CROC union and the Korean maquiladora owners and their lawyers were able to co-opt the leaders of the independent union movement and intimidate workers with a continued police presence in the factory. Each day and evening the workers went out to negotiate with the Korean managers and attorneys, to list their grievances, and to ask they be allowed the right to organize. But, the Korean managers and lawyers laughed in the face of the women and ridiculed them, over and over again. Then, the bribes began, and workers were told they would get raises and other benefits if they deserted the cause. And workers who were dismissed before, during, and after the factory strike were forced to sign agreements stating they now supported the old State FROC-CROC union, in order to obtain their jobs back and get an promised increase in pay. Interviews we obtained with a local attorney and two female workers who were present during the three-day strike, and who witnessed the breakup of the strike, gave us information that was not reported in the Mexican press, nor the Verité monitoring report. Specifically, that the media was being manipulated throughout the events, the 15 hospitalized women were kept incognito, and the story of the death of the two fetuses was squashed completely.

The young Mexican women of courage and persistence risked everything, to create an independent voice for themselves, to drop a line here or there to the press, and stage a worker protest against exploitation and abuse. They also took over the factory for three days, refusing to let more abuse into the factory gate and asked to negotiate in good faith with the Korean owners and managers and the FROC-CROC representatives who were just outside that gate. But the Korean owners and their lawyers said, “We can not understand you or what you say.” They laughed at the worker representatives. The workers moved back and forth between the factory and the community, bringing food and blankets provided by friends and relatives.

Participant2  -  Yes, because when we had the strike, she was only.  I was retired, but we had the strike and we supported it because workers asked us to support them.  Why? Because leaders explained us that it will be positive for us to support the strike.  Movement will bring great benefit for us and for Atlixco.  Why? Because if every body do not speak or if we had preferred to be quiet, they wont make nothing.  Always they had given us a bad attention as they given us.  So, it was as us, I went toward.  So, we were there in that, but in any time we did not make bad attitude.   Unique thing that we demanded was dialogue with them.  We demanded that some body explained us the situation.  Really we wanted to know what they wish to negotiate with us.  But it was not possible to negotiate with them and started the confrontation and every thing (From interview transcript)...

Participant2    But what happen?  As the strike started we did not to affect the other workers.  We wanted to dialogue for better package of benefits but Koreans did not accept it, but there was not dialogue.  So, most people were thinking that bricklayer came to work because they needed to work for hold their families, as such as us.  So, workers decided to permit to workers to enter inside company.  Because the problem was not against bricklayer; however, suddenly some body told us that Koreans were out the building with two trucks.  The two trucks were full with persons that they did not participate in the movement.  But why? These persons did not stay with the strike. at least to me, if a Korean there had said me, you know; working, there had told me.   You know, I an m going to give some thing if you are here.  In other words, I am going to pay to you although you are not working.  If I have babies what am I go to do?...

Miguel   Uh..Never was there negotiation or there was it?

Participant2    Never they accepted to negotiate.  Never.

Miguel       They did not accept to negotiate.

Participant2            When the media arrived to the company, their people arrived too and they said that theyyyyy.  No wanted to talk to us and I confront them to talk and invite them to negotiate.  I did not know that they were telling me but however I indicated them with sign that we need to negotiate.  OK, if you want to negotiate, lets go toward there to get a dialogue, I make a compromise to crew all people to get a dialogue an a negotiation.  But they did not want

 

Those who passed the Korean owners, managers, and their lawyers were recruited to leave the Kukdong Workers Coalition (KWC) and if they did, would receive an increase in pay and benefits. Some of the supervisors who organized the protest and quite a number of workers agreed to accept the Korean’s offer.  The strategy over the three days, then was to divide to protest, to split support for the KWC, and after it was pretty well a divided affair, the Police and union strike breakers were sent in to beat on the 300 workers who remained in the factory.

Miguel  - OK.  Dejenme explicarles a ellos esto. Ha, you know.  Coreans had a plan to divide women.  They checked what kind men and women had more necessities.  For example, how many people they had children or boys and if in reality they needed to continue to work.  When they changed, for example, I had two, three kids, I need to work for give or hold them. They invite to people, OK, you have a little kids you need to work. I am going to give more money for you, pum, pum, pum.  And you need to stop the women, you try to divide and put on against between workers (from the transcript).

These heroic women shoulder the battle against corporate PR teams, the Korean lawyers, and the national union FROC-CROC to create their independent union, the Kukdong Workers' Coalition (KWC).  Two of the five workers fired for taking leadership in their factory successfully entered the factory and their story was broadcast live on local radio. One of the five took a pay increase and became a recruiter who went to the homes of each worker and offered them an increase in pay and benefit if they were leave KWC and sign up for the FROC-CROC union as their sole representative. But for a few holdouts, they did not play their ascribed docile character roles, and refused to look the other way and pretend nothing had happened to co-opt their effort to establish the KWC.  That is the version of the story we obtained in our interviews with several eyewitnesses.  Another version of the story:

Hoon Park, Kukdong general director, said workers' complaints, which included the serving of meals of rotten meat and worm-ridden rice, have been addressed... Mr Park also said that no workers had been sacked, although more than 100 had resigned out of fear of retribution by upstart labour leaders. About 550 of the 850 workers were back on the job, he said. "We are being falsely accused."... Nike said it intended to remain a Kukdong customer and to "facilitate the process of a fair and objective resolution to this dispute". A Nike compliance officer is monitoring the situation and the company will investigate allegations of worker mistreatment once the labour dispute is resolved. (January 19, 2001 in a story reported by Alden & Mandel-Campbell).

The question is how will this story play out and be retold as it circulates in the AA Industry Tamara (Boje, 2001)?  Figure 1 summarizes the time line we will elaborate.


Figure 1: Timeline of the Kuk Dong Story

Ø    December 9, 1999 CROC signed a collective bargaining agreement between Kukdong and "Sindicato de Trabajadores de Odicios Varios en General de la Industria y el Campo "Gral. This agreement was made when only a handful of workers had been hired. CROC has the right per this agreement to fire and discipline workers who engage in what would otherwise be legal union activities. Workers at Kuk Dong have never been consulted nor have they consented to being affiliated with the FROC CROC union. The agreement with CROC expires January 15, 2002.

Ø In March 2000 Kuk Dong, owned by Hyu Su Byun of Korea, began to manufacture for Nike and since December 2000 for Reebok.

Ø    March 6-12, 2000, Martin Austermuhle of Penn State University accompanies PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) monitor on an inspection of three Nike factories in Puebla, including the Korean managed and owned, Kuk Dong factory. A brief report is posted on the NikeBiz web site. The longer report (Kepne, 2000) lists several violations and documents that Nike knew through PWC what was going on in Puebla.

Ø The Kukdong general manager confirmed that a supervisor had struck a worker with what he described as a “small hammer” on December 13, 2000, and that that the company had not disciplined the supervisor at that time (See WRC Report # 2, June 2001). 

Ø December 14, 2000 Kuk Dong management issued a memo to supervisors threatening them with disciplinary measures for engaging in physical and verbal abuse of workers. One Korean supervisor was fired for hitting a worker (Verité, 2001: 6).

Ø December 15, 2000 – Workers refused to eat factory food to protest its poor quality; then five worker-representatives are written up by management.

Ø      January 3, 2001 – five worker-supervisors were fired: The five fired worker-representatives are: Marco Santiago Perez Mesa, Marcela Muñoz Tepepa, Josefin Hernandez Ponce, Mario Nicanor Sefina, and Eduardo Sanchez Velasquez (Labor Bulletin, 2001; Alcalde, 2001).  This dismissal was a result of the workers’ refusal to eat the factory food on December 15, 2000. Only one of the five worker-supervisors signed a letter of resignation. 20-30 other workers were forced to sign letters of resignation. The other four worker-representatives were dismissed without being informed in writing the reasons for their dismissal as the law requires (stated at the end of article 47 of the Federal Labor Law). Kukdong workers began to organize a work stoppage in support of the demand to replace the CROC with a new union and rehire their fired supervisors.

Ø January 8, 2001 - a majority of the 850 workers conducted a temporary work stoppage, demanding the reinstatement of the five dismissed supervisors, payment of Christmas bonuses as required by Mexican law, and recognition of their independent union in place of the CROC one. They also demanded to see a copy of the collective bargaining agreement between Kukdong and CROC. Workers were told by a Korean manager (Rafael) they would have an answer by 8 A.M. (Rafael never showed, nor did he appear on the 9th).

 Ø January 9, 2001 the Kukdong company fired or forced the resignation of 25 workers who had complained about low wages and rotten food in the cafeteria (Axthelm & Pitkin (2001).

 Ø January 9 to 11, 2001 – 850 workers continued the  work stoppage, and at 8 A.M. took control of the gates at the Kuk Dong factory demanding that the five workers be reinstated and made a list of demands, including better food and a copy of the collective bargaining agreement. The TV media arrived January 10th. Management refused to negotiate with the workers.

 Ø January 11, 2001 - as strikers picketed the factory gates, known "enforcers" of the FROC-CROC union attempted to provoke a confrontation with the 300 or so workers present.

Ø      January 12, 2001 - Governor of the State of Puebla, Melquíades Morales Flores, sent 200 Mexican police dressed in full riot gear led by Rene Sanchez Juarez and thugs from the State-sanctioned union FROC-CROC and attacked 300, mostly female workers beating them with clubs, sending 15 to the hospital, two still remain hospitalized as of Friday morning; two organizers, Claudia Ochoterena and Josefina Hernandez, were kidnapped by the judicial police and later released. Rene Sanchez was reportedly at the scene pointing out which workers the Police should detain or attack 

Ø      January 13, 2001 - leaders of the independent union, Kukdong Workers' Coalition, signed an agreement with Kukdong management and the local labor board (Arbitration and Conciliation Board of Puebla) in Atlixco, Mexico saying that they would return to work.

Ø      January 14, 2001 Kuk Dong management began offering workers $1,500.00 pesos (about $150 in US dollars), if they agree to voluntary dismissal and then come back to work, but almost no one was returning to work. An independent monitor sponsored by the International Labor Rights Fund and agreed to by Nike reported that in order to return to work, workers were forced to sign support statements to the FROC-CROC (the current union at the plant, which is considered a union tied to the conservative Mexican political party, the PRI, and is widely discredited as a legitimate representative of workers in Mexico) [Alcalde, 2001].  Mexican-based sources report that workers are intimidated to return to work due to the 30-40 armed riot police who are consistently in the factory, the fact that returning workers are being force (Axthelm & Pitkin (2001).

Ø      January 14, 2001 – an interview is conducted by WRC documenting the use of child labor and abusive working conditions and management practices by Korean managers. Hundreds of returning workers were either fired or forced to resign.

Ø      January 17, management backpedaled and workers who were very active in the strike had their copies of the agreement taken from them by the Kukdong security guards, and were told they were being fired. They also refused to allow workers they thought participated in the January 9 to 11 strike to return to the factory (Labor Bulletin, 2001).

Ø January 19, Kukdong's general manager Hoon Park denies any workers were fired and reported that 550 workers were now back at work (Alden & Mandel-Campbell, 2001).

Ø      January 20th University officials at Indiana, Duke, North Carolina and other universities in the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) sent a monitoring delegation to study the allegations of workers' rights violations that can be substantiated. Workers and their relatives staged a large protest about Kukdong in downtown Atlixco.

Finding of Fact:   Prior to mid-February, Kukdong continued to deny full reinstatement without penalties or conditions to many workers who participated in the stoppage.  Since mid-February, Kukdong has largely, though not fully, ended this practice and the majority of workers who participated in the stoppage have now been reinstated.  However, there are still a substantial number of workers who have not achieved reinstatement and some reinstated workers were subjected to penalties and preconditions, which were not subsequently remedied (See Second WRC report, June 2001).

Ø  On January 23, 2001 the Fair Labor Association (FLA) announced that it had approved seven major brand-name apparel and sports shoe companies to participate in its monitoring program, that included Nike and Reebok. Those companies now (August, 2001) include: Nike, Reebok  (for footwear only), Adidas-Salomon AG, GEAR For Sports, Levi Strauss & Co., Liz Claiborne,  & Patagonia,  Phillips-Van Heusen, Eddie Bauer, Gear for Sports, and Polo Ralph Lauren. 

Ø      January 25th, 2 independent monitoring agencies – WRC & International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF is an FLA affiliate, See Alcalde, 2001) released reports submitted by their monitoring teams confirming that Kuk Dong has violated the right to freedom of association as granted by Mexican labor law, the International Labor Organization, University and Nike and Reebok Codes of Conduct, and the first legally binding agreement signed January 13th.

Ø January 30, 2001 a Verité observer reported seeing 30 unarmed factory security personnel in civilian clothing patrolling work areas and production lines. 30 armed factory security guards were stationed at the factory gates.

Ø   February 2, 2001 - deadline for workers to be re-hired at their previous level. Estimates are 200 of the 800 returned to work. Others were too intimidated to return to work, seeing the 20 to 30 armed police in riot gear who were at the factory.

Ø      February 5, 2001 – Verité recently accredited by the FLA began its 5-day monitoring assignment.

Ø February 9th, 2001 - the Corporate Responsibility Vice President of Nike, Dusty Kidd, sent a letter to the President of Kuk Dong, Mexico asking for some very specific demands including special outreach for reinstatement to the original five fired workers, reinstatement of all workers who wish to return with their previous seniority (addressing the problem of returning workers being treated as new workers), and publicizing the fact that the company dropped the charges waged against workers and supporters involved in the strike at the beginning of the year.

Ø      February 13, 2001 - FROC CROC, the illegitimate official union allied with management, has filed 21 counts of unfair labor grievances at the Kuk Dong factory.

Ø February 13, 2001 - Chu Jim Yup Korean's ambassador to Mexico and Mexico's Secretary of Economic Development, Antonio Zarain discuss the Kukdong maquiladora situation (Becerra, 2001).

Ø      February 19, 2001- Thirty-nine Kuk Dong workers, including two of the leaders of the independent union organizing effort whose illegal firings precipitated the original strike at Kuk Dong on 9 January, arrived at the factory early this morning to demand their unconditional reinstatement.   Representatives from Nike, Reebok and the Korean International Solidarity House were present during the negotiation of the worker's reinstatement.

 Ø  February 27, 2001 - Mexican office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) completed freedom of association and collective bargaining training for Kukdong workers.

 Ø   March 14, 2001 - Verité monitoring report (2001) commissioned by Reebok and Nike based on 29 confidential worker interviews, manager interviews, factory union personnel interviews, analysis of factory documents, factory walkthroughs, and Verité observer reports filed from January 31st to February 2nd and again from February 5th to the 9th on the  Kukdong International Mexico , S.A. De C.V. factory in Atlicco, Puebla, Mexico is posted on Nike web site along with Nike's press release (2001b) and remediation plan (2001c).  Findings mainly corroborated the findings of the Worker Rights Consortium (2001d) and the International Labor Rights Fund (Alcade, 2001) who issued separate reports at the end of January. The Verité report confirms that Kukdong management contracted with the FROC CROC state union before any workers were hired.  This included the finding that most workers are currently quite unhappy with FROC-CROC representation and that a union election should be by a secret ballot vote. "18 of 29 workers interviewed reported that the factory does not permit workers to form and join unions of their choice."

 


 

 Ø March 18, 2001 - Members of the independent worker coalition at the Kuk Dong factory in Atlixco, Mexico gathered on Sunday, March 18 to meet the legal requirements for forming an independent union. By the end of the meeting, the unionists had taken the name SITEKIM, Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Kukdong International de Mexico or the Independent Union of Workers at the Company Kukdong International of Mexico. FROC-CROC did station three people with a video camera to tape the workers entering the meeting. A large majority of the workers in the factory are united in their support of SITEKIM (Axthelm & Pitkin (2001).

 Ø April 12, 2001 - During the previous week, more workers attempting to return have been denied admittance at Kukdong, amongst them Martina Morales, a former line supervisor who, like most supervisors, played a leadership role in the work stoppage. Santiago Perez, one of the 5 leaders fired for opposing the CROC, continues to be denied employment. Despite the legally binding agreement of January 13 that should allow all workers to go back in without any specific conditions and Kukdong’s public statement on March 28 that all workers are being welcomed back, returning workers are told that the factory is at full capacity. New workers continue to be hired (Source Tim Connor update).

Ø April 13-19, 2001 - Nike testing the waters regarding cutting and running from Kuk Dong?  On 13 April University of Michigan USAS met with the university administration -the General Council to the University "tried to explain how, while NIKE really didn't want to pull out they might have to because Kukdong is doing so poorly financially and that they wanted to know, they being Kukdong, if we, USAS, would place an order with them to get the sweatshirts that they make....."

University of Southern California said the same thing to USAS at USC recently.

Evidently Amanda Tucker said a similar thing during a forum at the University of Arizona. She said that Nike had spent thousands of dollars on Kukdong and that in the future it may not be profitable to do business there. University of Arizona may have indicated they'd be interested in placing more orders from Kuk Dong (I think this meant directly rather than through Nike or Reebok, but this wasn't entirely clear).

There is some interest amongst USASers in pressuring their Universities to increase orders from Kuk Dong, provided that Kuk Dong first allows a free and fair election so that workers can determine who should represent them at the factory.

Sounds like Nike is testing the waters to see what the reaction would be if they cut and run from Kuk Dong. It's really important that it be very clear to them that this would provoke sustained outrage. Kuk Dong is the best chance yet of getting the right to freedom of association respected in at least one Nike supplier. If Nike gets away with breaking away from the buying relationship it will be a big set back in the campaign to get Nike to respect human rights.

Tim Connor, Coordinator, The NikeWatch Campaign

Ø April 20 Josefin Hernandez Ponce, (see Hernandez, 2001 for reference), one of the 5 dismissed worker-supervisors, gave an interview with Gerry Hadden on NPR.

Hadden: "In the town of Atlixco, 3 hours south of Mexico City, disgruntled factory workers recently held a late night secret meeting to discuss grievances. The workers make pants and shirts for such companies a Nike and Reebok. 28 year old plant worker Josephin Hernandez says pay at the Korean-owned factory called Kuk Dong is about $35 a week, not quite enough to buy a pair of the pants she sews 10 hours a day. She says the factory supervisors have become abusive."

Hernandez: "They start to yell at us, to mistreat us physically and verbally with profanity. They beat one worker with a screwdriver. Or they start saying things about us in their own language. We learned they were calling us garbage."

Hadden: "Factory owners deny the allegations. Hernandez says residents here do not trust [Mexico's president Vincente] Fox and his development vision She says she is worried his plan will create crowded unsanitary factory slums like those along Mexico's northern border with the U.S." (additions, Boje).

Hernandez: A lot of factories are arriving here and they pay very low wages. That to me isn't a change. The truth is I don't think things here will change."

(Eyewitness report 1, April 30, 2001)

May 8th Update USAS -

On Tuesday, May 8, Elytania Baez Gonzalez, a sewing line supervisor at Kukdong lost 400 pesos of her own property. After reporting to company officials that she lost the money, she and others were called into the security booth at the main entrance. There, Alberto Cedano, head of security at Kukdong accused  Baez of "self-robbery." Security personnel under orders rom Cedano frisked the workers and then had a female security employee to strip search them. While the reason for this attack is not clear, Baez and at least another person involved were actively involved in the work stoppage and have strongly opposed the CROC union.

Alberto Cedano has been previously involved in several other incidents of violence and harassment against workers. Josefina Morastitla, a worker at Kukdong, reported that Cedano roughly grabbed her by the arms and shoved her out of the way the on January 9th, during the work stoppage. State television broadcast footage of her displaying the bruises caused by  Cedano later that day. MORE Update.

May 15, 2001 - update USAS - Bribes and Abuse by CROC to new Independent Union workers.

  • May 15, 2001 "Kukdong-Independent Union Leader Beaten by CROC supporters." On May 15th, SITEKIM (the independent union in the Kukdong factory which has recently filed for legal registration) leader Ivan Diaz Xolo was assaulted outside the factory's new cafeteria by three CROC supporters. See Post by Campaign for Labor Rights for full story.

  • In the case of Ivan Diaz, Nike commented to have spoken to all eyewitnesses to the event. Yet, eight workers who witnessed the event have never been interviewed by the company or Nike auditors. Josefina Hernandez, Edith Vazquez, Tomas Calderon, Bertha Altamirano, Claudia Monroy, Aide Camaño, Fransisca Gonzalez, Ricarda Ramos and Micaela Romero submitted a document that expresses: “We, the workers of Kukdong who sign this document, witnessed how some guys, Israel (El Veneno), Adalberto (El Puebla) hit Ivan Erik Dias [sic], without any cause.” In contrast to Nike’s misinformed or complicit coverup,  workers report that a Reebok representative was present at Kukdong to address the case of Elytania Baez. They do not report to have knowledge of any visit by Nike auditors. Workers have requested that those they perceive as intellectual authors of these attacks, FROC-CROC representative Jose Luis Ruiz and head of security Alberto Cedano, be held responsible for the violence and harassment against Elytania Baez and Ivan Diaz. They both continue to work at Kukdong with impunity.

June 5, 2001 - Update on FROC-CROC attempt to disrupt SITEKIM certification.

June 21, 2001 - SITEKIM filed for legal recognition (registro) with state labor officials almost sixty days ago, and according to Mexican law, the government has just one more week to respond to the union's request. 

 

 

August, 2001 - WRC has released second report on Kukdong. It supports the claims in the first report. (Maquiladora Solidarity Memo 8). WRC download pdf document. (But you need a WRC password to open it in NON-READ ONLY). The report is 61 pages long. The report is dated June 20th, 2001.  Among the findings:
  • Imposition of a bargaining representative and a collective contract without the consent of workers violates workers’ freedom of association under international law  (International Labor Organization Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998, ILO Conventions 87, 98, 154) and Mexican law (Federal Labor Law Articles 357-58, 373, 389, 391). 
  • Discharges of workers in retaliation against union activity, and attempts to chill the union activity of remaining workers, constitute violations of workers’ right of association and their right to be free of discrimination based on their exercise or non-exercise of their right to engage in union activity, under international law (ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998, ILO Convention 87, 98, 154) and Mexican law (Mexican Constitution Articles 9, 123; Federal Labor Law Articles 354, 355).
  • Failure to reinstate workers based on their submission of grievances and participation in strike activities violates workers’ freedom of association and their right to be free of discrimination based on union activity under international law (ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998, ILO Conventions 87, 98, 154) and Mexican law (Mexican Constitution Articles 9, 123; Mexican Federal Labor Law Articles 354, 355).  
  • Physical assault against workers constitutes violations of basic Mexican civil and criminal law and international law. 
    • Verbal abuse involved frequent yelling and insults, and included the screaming of racial epithets and obscenities.  The workers testified that slaps to the head were more frequent, if not routine, during periods of intensified production before shipment deadlines. 
  • Minimum wage levels promulgated by the National Commission on Minimum Wages are legally binding minimum wages under Mexican law. 
  • Payment of wages below the prevailing wage constitutes non-compliance with those provisions of university codes and the WRC Code requiring that contractors and licensees ensure that workers are paid prevailing wages. Action: Kukdong has raised its lowest wage from 38 pesos per day to 43 pesos (this increase was implemented in January) and has raised the wage of the majority of sewing operators to 48 pesos per day or more.
    • Finding of Fact:   The wages paid by Kukdong to many production workers are below the median wage for apparel workers in Puebla, and throughout Mexico, in both the maquiladora and non-maquiladora sectors, as calculated by Mexican federal government’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática – INEGI) and independent economists of the Autonomous University of Puebla.
    • AND WAGES STILL BELOW COMMUNITY STANDARDS - The median wage at Kukdong in 2000 was 43 pesos per day. According to INEGI, the median daily salary of a production worker in Mexico employed in a maquiladora that manufactures apparel and/or other textile products was 66.1 pesos per day in 2000.
    • Finding of Fact:   The wages paid by Kukdong to production workers are insufficient to meet the barest needs for food, clothing, and shelter of a household with either two or three members.
  • The employment of children below the age of sixteen for workdays of more than six hours violates Mexican law (Mexican Constitution Article 123(A)(III) and Federal Labor Law Article 177)... As noted, the investigate team found that Kukdong had employed child labor in violation of Mexican law in the past but did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that this problem persisted.
    • NOTE: The files of many employees had no documentation, one way or another. "At least eight workers testified that they had personal knowledge that Kukdong had, during the past year, hired children aged thirteen through fifteen for workdays of ten hours."
  • RECOMMENDATION: Kukdong and other parties should take proactive steps to ensure free communication and deliberation among the workforce regarding their choice of bargaining representative, prior to a fair secret ballot election.  
  • METHODOLOGY is most interesting Besides surveys, interviews (structured and unstructured) there is:
    • Close forensic questioning of all witnesses to specific alleged events that constitute specific alleged violations of codes and law.
      • "The panel closely questioned Kukdong managers, officials of the CROC, and officers of the Conciliation and Arbitration Board of Puebla on the question of the process by which Kukdong entered into its collective bargaining relationship with the CROC.  In three separate sessions of questioning, these three parties gave three different accounts of that process.  These accounts contradicted one another.  The accounts were also contradicted by the testimony of other parties.  The credibility of important elements of each account was further undermined by several other indicia of unreliability, including internal contradictions within each account; the substantive implausibility of the account; the three parties’ patently inaccurate testimony as to other, closely related matters; the parties’ evasive demeanor under close questioning; and  reliable Mexican scholarship recounting the CROC’s pattern and practice of activities in the State of Puebla."
    • Critical survey of existing secondary, scholarly, or journalistic reports
    • The Panel is mostly lawyers from universities. The panel and follow-up investigator (Daniel Long) interviewed approximately 58 workers in Atlixco and in six of their home villages (from which workers commute to the factory). 
    • David Long, however, is graduate student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin; representative of United Students Against Sweatshops on the WRC Board.
    • INTERESTING - At least twenty-seven workers testified that one of the workers’ most important grievances was that Korean managers had struck workers by hand as a common means of pressuring workers to speed up their work and had struck workers with workplace tools on at least two occasions; that workers had reported this fact to the CROC; and that the CROC had not taken any action to press the grievance on behalf of the workers. 
    • MISSING VIDEO TAPE - Kukdong managers admitted that they themselves had videotaped the police action.  The managers stated, implausibly, that they had never watched their own videotape or any other videotape of the event.  (Videotape excerpts of the police action had been shown on local television.)  The managers further stated that they were unable to provide a copy of their videotape to the WRC because, again implausibly, they had given the videotape to the police but had made no record of the particular police office that was in possession of such patently important evidence.
    • HOW VIDEOS ARE USED - The Use of Videotapes by Kukdong and the CROC to Identify and Retaliate Against Participants in the Work Stoppage.   Thirty-six workers testified that when they and others sought to return to work after the stoppage, Kukdong security personnel and agents of the CROC advised them that they could not return because they were identified on videotapes as participants in the stoppage.  As recounted in the previous section of this report, the CROC officers testified that Kukdong managers had repeatedly watched a CROC-made videotape of the police action.
  • See WRC download pdf document for more.

 

September 21, 2001- GOOD NEWS - The Kuk Dong factory in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico finally won their independent union and a signed collective agreement. This is a precedent-setting victory for the courageous women of Kukdong, and the solidarity efforts of the anti-sweatshop and anti-globalization movements.  It is an event that could open the door to worker organizing in Mexico's maquiladora sector where, to date, independent unions have not been tolerated. On September 21, the new collective agreement was signed by the company, which has changed its name to Mexmode, and the independent union, now known as SITEMEX. That same day the contract was filed with the Puebla Conciliation and Arbitration Board, and the union was granted its legal registration. Of the 450 workers currently employed at the factory, 399 signed the application for the independent union (Read full report).
I just got back from India, and opened my mail. I found a letter dated October 17, 2001 from Vada O. Manager, the Director of Global Issues management of Nike, Inc. Many of you received this letter or heard about Nike's decision or saw the on line September 27, 2001 Nike Press Release http://www.nikebiz.com/media/n_kukdong8.shtml   Here are some excerpts from the letter

"Dear Dr. Boje,

Thank you for your interest in Kukdong...

I am very pleased to learn that the company and the local Mexican labour board have recognized the union of workers' choice, and that the new union, SITEMEX and Mexmode have successfully negotiated a collective agreement. ...

After our last order for the hooded fleece product produced at Kukdong was filled in July, Nike did not place any further orders at the factory. We have gone on record to assure all concerned parties that once our business needs change and we can achieve shared values regarding Code of Conduct related issues with Kukdong factory management, the newly recognized union and government officials, Nike will consider placing additional orders at this factory. .. Etc. Signed Vada O. Manager, Nike Inc.

 

Bottom line, despite all the positive affirmations for Marcel Munoz the new head of the Sitemex union, Nike is just not renewing its contract, and has pulled its orders since June. June, by the way is when the FROC-CROC union was unsuccessful in driving the Sitemex workers' union out of the factory. Since September 21, 2001 the new union under the leadership of Marcel Munoz, a 22-year old line supervisor, has won two pay raises and expects a third, reports Vada Manager. Why is Nike not going to renew the orders?

To me this letter is no surprise. Of some 300 Korean-owned Maquiladora factories in Mexico, this is the very first to have an independent union voted in. Nike tested the water back in April to see if any university campus would care if Nike dropped out of the picture.

For example, on April 19, 2001 reports circulated on the USAS, Kukdong, and Nike-Related list serves indicated that Nike staff members were visiting several university campuses that were selling Kukdong campus apparel. The Nike visits included University of Michigan, University of Southern California, and University of Arizona. A Nike staff member, for example, "tried to explain how, while Nike really didn't want to pull out they might have to because Kukdong is doing so poorly financially and that they wanted to know, they being Kukdong, if we, USAS, would place an order with them to get the sweatshirts that they make....." Another staff member added that Nike had spent thousands of dollars on the Verité monitoring study and this factory was now considered a loss.

I have several questions

1. Does anyone know if USAS is placing orders with Kukdong (now Sitemex)? Can our university order its sweatshirts from Sitemex? In other words, are we somehow trying to support the workers once they have grown their own empowerment?

2. When I traveled to Atlixco and interviewed Kukdong workers and local officials, I discovered there were already other Kukdong factories in other locations around Atlixco making apparel. Could it be that Nike has just switched its contract from one site with an independent union to one without?

3. While the Vada Manager letter is very user-friendly, there is no indication that Nike will place any more orders? Is this one more example of Nike pulling out of one factory once it begins to move out of sweatshop status and moving along to some undisclosed and unmonitored factory without independent representation? I.e. Is Nike taking the path of least resistance?

If anyone is working on this issue, please let me know. I would like to volunteer. I am currently writing up the interviews, now that the transcription work has been done.

 

VICTORY for the Women of Kukdong  - December 18, 2001

Responding to letters from over 6,000 people from 17 countries (thanks for sending CLR copies of your letters!) Nike has publicly declared its intent to resume orders with the Mexmode, formerly Kukdong, garment factory in Atlixco, Mexico. The factory produces sweatshirts for Nike and Reebok, and licensed Nike sweatshirts for a number of US universities that have adopted No Sweat purchasing policies. If Nike keeps its promise to resume placing orders with the factory, possibly in the spring of this year, the workers' achievement of the only independent union with a signed collective agreement in a Mexican maquiladora factory will be secure. The proof of Nike's commitment to not cut and run from the factory now that the workers have won an independent union will be the timeliness and volume of orders it places with the factory. Nike campaigners around the world will be watching.

A bit of context for the story - The majority of the newly hired workers in the Maquiladora are young women drawn from the countryside and isolated mountain villages of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. The mainly Nahuatl-speaking indigenous people are part of the system of semi-feudalism, an oppressed language group within Mexican culture. The Mexican government uses the primary language spoken as the basis for identifying ethnic groups (91% Spanish, with Nahuatl as the next highest). They work in factories making logo garments for Guess Jeans, Tommy Hilfigar, Wal-Mart’s Kathie Lee Gifford line of blouses, Reebok and Nike. Puebla was hard hit by the floods of 1999. In Puebla, Mexico, workers who work for one Los Angles company have the cost of the water they drink taken out of their salary (Challenge, 1999).  “In Tezuitlan, Puebla, one of these maquiladora communities that was built on a hill made from landfill collapsed in the rain, burying the people in mud. Residents estimate 500 people were killed. The workers made Guess and Tommy Hilfiger clothes for export to the U.S. market” (Revolutionary Work23, 1999).

Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) founded in 1929 as a state-party, has kept control of the unions through agreements between governors, "official unions" such as FROC-CROC, and foreign investors. The losers have
been the independent unions and the workers. Mexico's PRI political party, the Congress of Labor (CT), FROC-CROC, and affiliated federations such as the Confederation of Mexican Worker (CTM) have been able to control workers and keep them from organizing independent unions.  The Kukdong story is one more glimpse at how the system works. Leaders of the PRI state government and affiliated labor unions such as FROC-CROC met in Puebla with the Korean ambassador to work things out.  They formed a "united front" just as they had done in January 26, 2000 to keep an independent union from forming in a factory supplying parts to the VW maquiladora.

The front was not formed to fight for more jobs, nor for higher wages, nor for better benefits, nor for any of the other usual demands of labor organizations. The front was formed to keep workers from organizing independent labor unions at the Siemens or Seglo plants which supply parts for Volkswagen, the automobile manufacturer (LA JORNADA, January 26, 2001).

Jaime Renee Sánchez Juárez of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (FROC-CROC) organized the January 26, 2000 "united front," just as he organized the January 12, 2001united action at Kukdong International, a year later.  But this time the governor of Puebla, Melquiades Morales Flores, backed him up with 200 riot police.

Jaime Renee Sánchez Juárez, General Secretary of Puebla FROC-CROC union (Photo by A Gonzalez/Sintesis, January 15, 2001: R3)

 

 

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS IN THIS DRAMA:

Government

President of Mexico, Vincente Fox

Governor of Puebla, Melquiades Morales Flores

Chu Jim Yup Korean's ambassador to Mexico

Mexico's Secretary of Economic Development, Antonio Zarain

Kukdong International

S.K. Byun, President of Kukdong Corporation, Seoul Korea

Y.H. Kim, Managing Director of Kukdong Corporation

Park Hoon, General Manager of Kukdong Corporation

Hugo de la Peña Riveros, Human Resource Manager of Kukdong Corporation

Fernando A. Treviño, legal representative from the "Rivareneyra and Treviño" representing Kukdong Corporation.

23 managers - Korean expatriates

Mr. Lee, Owner of some 10 maquiladora doing outsourcing for Kukdong

UNIONS

Jaime Renee Sánchez Juárez, General Secretary of Puebla FROC-CROC union.

Jose Luis Rodriguez, FROC-CROC union representative at Kukdong factory.

Unnamed International Labor Organization (ILO) representative who trains workers (February 27, 2001) at Kukdong in collective bargaining, while asking them to support the FROC-CROC union.

SITEKIM, Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Empresa Kukdong International de Mexico (Independent Workers Union). SITEKIM is new name given to Kukdong Workers Coalition.

REEBOK

Tara Holeman, Manager of the Human Rights Program of Reebok International, LTD on site at Kukdong.

NIKE

Unnamed, Nike on site representative at Kukdong sometime after January 9, 2001.

LABOR BOARD OF CONCILIATION

The head of Puebla's Local Board of Conciliation and arbitration is Benita Villahuerta.

Atlixco City Local Board of Conciliation and arbitration lawyer

Monitors

Verité (2001) team

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC see Austermuhle, 2000 & Kepne, 2000) auditor

International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF, see Alcalde, 2001), Arturo Justiniani Alcalde

Workers Rights Consortium (WRC, 2001b, c, d) team

 

The Kuk Dong Story - The story begins  when Kukdong, owned by Hyu Su Byun of Korea, on December 9, 1999 factory management signed a collective bargaining agreement with CROC, before workers were hired and production began (Verité, 2001: 9). CROC has the right per this agreement to fire and discipline workers who engage in what would otherwise be legal union activities. The agreement with CROC expires January 15, 2002. 

Figure 1: Kukdong International of Mexico, S. A. de C.V. MAIN FACTORY SITE

In March 2000 Kukdong began to manufacture sweatshirts for Nike and since December 2000 for Reebok.  It was also March 2000 when Nike sent a Penn State Union to the Kuk Dong factory in Puebla Mexico to accompany a PWC moral code of conduct monitor (See Appendix A). The monitoring report by PWC was shelved along with all the other reports, a truncated version of the student's report went onto the Nikebiz (2001) web site, and nothing happened. But this story of monitoring and doing nothing has only just begun.  Only when workers grow there own power, and take control of their own monitoring, is there any real empowerment.

The real story of worker empowerment begins on  December 15, 2000 when five workers refused to eat factory food and were written up the Korean factory management. On January 3rd the five workers were dismissed (one resigned). The workers are Stantiago Perez, Josefina Hernandez Ponce, Mario Nicanor Zetina, Marcle Munos, and Eduardo "N" (Alcalde, 2001). 

What four monitoring reports (Verité, 2001; PriceWaterhouseCoopers PWC see Austermuhle, 2000 & Kepne, 2000; International Labor Rights Fund ILRF, see Alcalde, 2001; & Workers Rights Consortium WRC, 2001b, c, d)  have not uncovered is the Kukdong supply chain of Korean owned factories around the city of Atlixco. In our site visits from march 26 to March 31, 2001, community residents and a local Labor Office attorney we interviewed informed us the Kukdong International has about eleven factory locations around the city of Atlixco, Mexico.  The labor attorney indicated that the labor conditions are far worse in the out-source factory locations than in the main Kukdong International factory.

Only the main factory location in Figure 1 is being monitored. Figures 3, 4, 6 and 7 provide photos of two of the other factory locations, the Pacific Continental Textile Factory and the S&J factory, both owned by Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee split off from three other Korean owners of the main Kukdong International factory in Figure One.

Figure 3: Mr. Lee's Pacific Continental Textile of Mexico S. A. de C.V. (PCT) Factory that supplies the Kukdong Main Factory

Figure 4: PCT factory help wanted sign.

Figure 6: PCT factory with female workers bundling stacks of garments to be sent to the Kukdong Main factory.

Figure 7: Mr. Lee's S&J International Factory and help wanted sign.

    On Tuesday, January 9th at 8 A.M., 850 workers in to the Korean-owned Kuk Dong, Kukdong International-Mexico apparel factory, a supplier of Nike, Reebok, and U.S. Universities, situated in the small city of Atlixco, in Puebla Mexico, staged a work stoppage and actually took control of the factory gate, and occupied the factory, to protest verbal and physical abuses, forced overtime (The workers also complain of forced overtime (including 14 to 16 year old workers who are legally required to work no more than 6 hours a day and are instead working 10), the withholding of wages for their overtime hours, unwillingness of the company to pay maternity benefits, and serious health and safety issues (lack of protective gear and reports by workers of throat, nose and lung irritation as well as conjunctivitis; raw and rancid food served with worms which had hospitalized workers) that continue not to be addressed (Indy Channel, 2001; Free Press, 2000-2001; Michigan Daily, 2001; Asheville, 2001; Labor Bulletin, 2001).  “The immediate cause of the strike was the firing of 20 [to 25] workers who had complained about rotten food in the cafeteria, low wages ($30 for a 45-hour week), and the failure of the company to pay the Christmas bonus in accordance with Mexican labor law” (Boston Indy Media, 2001). Workers took over the factory and set up their own guards at the factory gates.  Josefina Hernandez Ponce, a worker, complained that her Korean supervisors insult them in Korean language phrases that translate into the word “trash.” Some of the striking workers returned to their homes in the more than 50 villages in the hills surrounding the factory.  There have also been recent reports that indicate repeated labor disputes at Kuk Dong's Indonesian factory, most recently over the failure to pay a minimum wage (see low wages).

Between 20-30 workers had recently been forced by the company to sign voluntary resignation forms. Four were supervisors, and one was recently named “employee of the month” (Asheville, 2001). But somewhere along this storyline, Josefina Hernandez Ponce took leadership initiative and put her letter of appeal to the world out on to the Internet (GE, 2001b; Green Party, 2001; Destroy IMF, 2001; Clean Clothes Campaign, 2001; US Labor Education in the Americas Project, 2001).  The loosely coupled network of the anti-sweatshop movement mobilized in support.

LETTER FROM A KUKDONG WORKER (January 10, 2001).

 

Brothers and Sisters: We are workers at the Kukdong Internacional SA de CV factory. We make sweatshirts for Nike, some with university logos. We have been working for a year and month, during which we have suffered mistreatment from the Korean supervisors. Some talk to us in their language, and though we do not understand them at the moment, after researching the words, we know that what they call us the most means "trash".

We write you to ask for your support and solidarity with the work stoppage we have begun. We don't want to hurt the company, we just want to remove the union, since we were forced to join it and threatened with being fired if we did not. People who started work in the factory were made to sign their affiliation without knowing what they were signing. The union gained power, but this power was not to help the workers, but to serve the union's and the company's interests. Therefore we were forced to stop work to show our disagreement, and to be heard.

We thank you for your attention.

               Sincerely,

               Josefina Hernandez Ponce

(See GE, 2001b; Green Party, 2001; Destroy IMF, 2001; Clean Clothes Campaign, 2001; US Labor Education in the Americas Project, 2001).

 

Monitors of factories and company compliance officers from Nike (identity of the Nike employee is not known) and Reebok (Tara Holeman, Manager of the Human Rights Program of Reebok International, LTD) sent their staff to Atlixco and to Puebla to look into these allegations of sweatshop conditions; their respective delegations began to investigate. Nike officials described it as a simple “dispute over a food catering contact,” thereby sidestepping the issue of workers’ demands to form an independent union called the Kuk Dong Workers’ Coalition (Free Press, 2000-2001, USAS, 2001a).  Reebok, right in the middle of its self-promotion for the International Human Rights Awards, had not much to say about Puebla.

If this photo is a clue, perhaps Reebok should select one of these workers for a Human Rights award (See Reebok).

Photo 1: “Pregnant workers being carried out in a hurry on January 12th, 2001 as the riot police and the state-sanction union begin to beat up workers attempting to organize their independent union, Kuk Dong Workers’ Coalition (Source http://www.a16.org/usas/).

This is a photo of Police that patrol Atlixco. They are not the same police that did assaulted workers at the Kukdong factory (these came from Puebla).

Below is photo of Municipal Police on site at the Kukdong factory (Sintesis 10 January, 2001: R7).

On Thursday, January 12th, at 10:30 A.M, the terror against workers turned a violent direction. To break the three day worker strike and factory occupation, the governor of the State of Puebla, Melquíades Morales Flores, sent 200 Mexican police dressed in full riot gear led by Rene Sanchez Juarez and thugs from the State-sanctioned union FROC-CROC ( a group of construction workers from FROC-CROC were later identified who) attacked 300, mostly female workers, some who were pregnant accompanied by young children, and injured fifteen workers seriously enough to be sent to the hospital (USAS report, 2001a). Several of the workers were beaten quite severely by the police with their clubs as they passed through a gauntlet of batons.

Half of the striking workers had gone home to get some sleep and bathe after spending 3 days and 2 nights on guard at the factory gates, a group of "construction workers" entered the company grounds pushing their way through the strikers and attempting to provoke a confrontation. The strikers responded by not reacting to the provocation. Soon after this, the 300 workers who had remained at the plant were surrounded by 200 riot gear-equipped "Granaderos" (Puebla State Police)... The police then proceeded to open a small space between their ranks, and began pulling the workers out, pushing them with their batons forming a sort of gauntlet. Several of the workers were beaten severely by the police with their clubs. [Labor Bulletin, 2001].

The FROC-CROC union strike busters and the Mexican police entered the company grounds pushing their way through the strikers and attempting to provoke a confrontation. The strikers responded by not reacting to the provocation. The top police official told the strikers that they had been ordered by the Governor to remove the strikers from the area. Rene Sanchez Juarez, who pointed out the strike leaders and asked them “Are you frightened yet?” As the police began pushing the workers into a smaller and smaller area, the workers sat down, raised their arms to show they were not resisting and were unarmed, and began singing the Mexican national anthem (Labor Net, 2001; Labor Bulletin, 2001).

 

Photo 2: Injured Nike workers being loaded onto the ambulance following the attack (Source, Behind The Label).

Two leaders of the protest, Claudia Ochoterena and Josefina Hernandez, were kidnapped by the judicial police, threatened with more violence, and then released. 800 workers went on strike to form an independent union and protest sweatshop working conditions; Reebok, Nike and the Korean factory management threatened to fire workers who did not return to work (USAS report, 2001a).  Why is it so difficult for Nike and Reebok to realize that expatriate Korean and Taiwanese management is just not a good corporate decision?

On Saturday, January 13, the leaders of the independent union, the Kukdong Workers' Coalition, signed an agreement with Kukdong management and the local labor board in Atlixco, Mexico saying that workers would return to work. The workers demanded the following (Labor Bulletin, 2001):

  1. Immediately reinstate all of the workers illegally fired last week for organizing inside of the factory.
  2. Stop the illegal firings happening en masse at this moment against workers who participated in the protest, and ensure that no reprisals are taken against anyone who participated in the strike.
  3. Drop the bogus charges filed against at least 6 workers and their supporters.
  4. Recognize the Kukdong Workers' Coalition as the legitimate, democratic, and independent representative of the workers at Kukdong and agree to deal with them as such.

An independent monitor sponsored by the International Labor Rights Fund and agreed to by Nike reports that in order to return to work, workers are being forced to sign support statements to the FROC-CROC (the current union at the plant, which is considered a union tied to the conservative Mexican political party, the PRI, and is widely discredited as a legitimate representative of workers in Mexico). 

The Kuk Dung factory in Atlixco De Puebla, is a manufacturer of campus apparel merchandise which is alleged to have broken several Fair Labor Association (FLA), Reebok, and Nike and Reebok codes of conduct, as well as Mexican Labor Law (University of Syracuse, 2001):

1) Employees as young as fourteen working ten hour shifts,

2) A denial of maternity leave benefits,

3) Denial of free association,

4) Unpaid overtime, and

5) Abusive working conditions.

The return of the 5 worker protest leaders of the independent union effort was strongly recommended in the results of both the independent investigation of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and also the independent mediator Nike originally dispatched to  the conflict, Arturo Alcalde (2001).  The International Labor Rights Fund, who also  participated in drafting the Alcalde (2001) report, said it best: "We believe that  the crisis at the Kuk Dong factory can be resolved if action is taken  swiftly to re-employ all the workers who were on strike.  When it comes to  union representation, justice delayed is justice denied."

The workers except for just a few starving souls refused to sign up with FROC-CROC. The Korean management began to up the ante. By January 14, 2001 the Korean-owned company began offering workers $500 if they come back to work, but almost no one was returning to work. Mexican-based sources report that workers are also being intimidated to return to work due to the 30-40 armed riot police who are consistently in the factory, the fact that returning workers are being forced to sign a loyalty oath to the FROC-CROC and their earned seniority status and pay is disregarded because they are being treated as new workers.

Again and again, Nike and Reebok have claimed that they have no child labor in their subcontract factories. Yet the shoddy monitoring by PWC (appendix a) could have easily detected that the situation was otherwise. In an interview on January 14, conducted by WRC (Behind the Label, 2001b), the use of child labor and abusive working conditions and management practices by Korean managers was verified on video, in photo and in transcript.  The name of the 15-year-old child worker has been withheld to protect her identity (Reebok allows 14 and 15 years olds to work, but Nike's code clearly forbids children under 16 in its apparel factories to work as laborers):

"I am 15 years old, I work at Kukdong. I make $352 pesos a week. [About 75 cents an hour.] I work 10 hours a day. I work from 8 a. m. to 6 p.m.

 

"I am an operator in Line 5, embroidering sleeves. I work 5 days a week.

 

"I don't make enough money. In these days, one thousand pesos are very little money. I don't take care of my family, but I wish I could buy things for my  house. I can’t…

 

"The Korean (managers) haven't abused me, but I've seen how aggressive they are with other co-workers of mine. They yell at them very aggressively. Other times they talk in their language. We don't understand what they say, but we can hear a lot of aggressiveness" (Behind the Label, 2001b)/

There are excerpts from the video transcript that speak to the abuse of this fifteen year old girl’s body:

"My feet are getting varicose, and I have a strong pain in my hips. When I felt sick, I used to go to see the nurse, but now I don't. There is another nurse now, and I saw the way she treated a co-worker who was very sick. My supervisor asked me: 'Bring Nancy to the nursery, because she feels terrible.' So I brought her, and the nurse didn't believe she was sick. She (the nurse) told her: 'You are always sick. Am I going to believe it?' So the nurse didn't help her, and my co-worker had a fever for three days.

 

 "There are no more than three water fountains. [For over 800 workers.] Sometimes there is no water in these fountains. If we are thirsty, our mouth gets dried-up (Behind the Label, 2001b).

 

On January 17, management backpedaled and workers who were very active in the strike had their copies of the agreement (signed January 13th) taken from them by the Kukdong security guards, and were told they were once again being fired (USAS, 2001c). Kuk Dong began firing workers who had participated in the worker-factory occupation and strike that occurred January 9,10, and 11, 2001.

On January 20th University officials at Indiana, Duke, North Carolina and other universities in the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) sent a combined monitoring delegation to study any allegations of workers' rights violations that could be substantiated (Indy Channel, 2001, Michigan Daily, 2001).

According to the Nike web site, the sweatshirts manufactured in Puebla, bear the logos of Arizona, Michigan, Duke, Georgetown, Oregon, California-Berkeley, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State and Syracuse (Nike, 2001a).

            On January 25th, two independent monitoring agencies - the Worker Rights Consortium, a body involving 67 U.S. universities, and the International Labor Rights Fund, a non-profit affiliated to the Fair Labor Association which also has university affiliates - released reports submitted by their monitoring teams confirming that Kuk Dong has (at least) violated the right to freedom of association as granted by Mexican labor law, the International Labor Organization, University and Nike Codes of Conduct, and the first legally binding agreement signed 13 January, 2001. More detailed reports are expected in the near future (WRC, 2001a, b, c).

What we were able to verify right away, based on the clearest evidence, is that unless our universities intervene promptly with their licensee, Nike, and its contractor, Kukdong, to allow these workers to return to their jobs and to protect them from reprisals, the young women will suffer deeply for speaking out about serious labor abuses. This is not a message we want to send to the people who make the clothing bearing our universities' logos," said the delegation's leader, Columbia University Law Professor Mark Barenberg who chairs the WRC board … The report also finds that Nike's contractor has probably violated both Mexican and international laws covering some of the same issues as well as workers' rights to freedom of association. (WRC, 2001a).

Both of these bodies advised that to resolve the conflict, Kuk Dong should reinstate all the workers who were fired or forced to resign during the labor conflict and that measure be taken to protect returning workers from reprisals… Despite the fact that Nike's own compliance officer is in agreement with the WRC and ILRF findings, Nike's public statement issued on January 25th claims that the WRC investigations thus far are not credible. Instead, Nike and the Fair Labor Association, to which it is affiliated, are bringing in another ;monitor; Verité, a non-profit monitoring organization, for ‘credible’ results” (US Labor Education in the Americas Project, 2001).

The response by Nike and Reebok to the January 25th, 2001 release of two independent monitoring reports, was to deny the validity of the methodology, and call for a new monitor to be sent in. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) responded by sending a monitoring delegation, including their first certified monitor, Verité to the scene.  As far as I can tell Verité had been quickly certified to respond to Nike and Reebok's corporate PR emergency.

To the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the WRC, the FLA truly resembles the fox guarding the hen house. This is a case of the battle of the monitors, as the FLA Verité and the WRC (and International labor Rights Fund) delegates produce alternative accounts of sweatshop conditions and workers’ rights assurances (see report by Alcade, 2001).

The WRC (2001c) monitor reported that Verité monitors had received instructions not to talk to WRC.

The monitoring delegation from Nike, Reebok, FLA, and Verité must now explain to the University's directors of licensing, students, faculty and staff the continued defense of the FLA as a “monitoring” organization, which has yet to do any monitoring. Verité in Puebla is its first attempt.  The WRC delegation seeks to legitimate its monitoring alternative and deny the veracity of the FLA monitoring as well as the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) monitoring (Kepne, 2000). PWC is  hired by Nike to do internal inspections, the monitors' report is kept confidential and sent directly to Nike, with snippets doled out as press releases. The Verité report is supposed to be released to the University members of the FLA as well as to Nike and Reebok.  Verité has a strong reputation in the area of Human Rights monitoring.

The Verité Monitoring Report - March 15, 2001 Verité releases its report on the Nike web site. The monitoring report (audit date February 5-7, 2001) was commissioned by Reebok and Nike based on 29 confidential worker interviews, manager interviews, factory union personnel interviews, analysis of factory documents, factory walkthroughs, and Verité observer reports filed from January 31st to February 2nd and again from February 5th to the 9th on the Kukdong International Mexico, S. A. De C. V. factory in Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico. The report went upon on the Nike web site around March 15, 2001.

Verité characterizes itself as "an independent compliance monitor" (2001: 1) that "judge factory compliance against a compilation of benchmarks" (p. 2) from OSHA, ILO, and various human rights standards, the local labor law and the client's Codes of Conduct, which in this case is the FLA, "Workplace Code of Conduct." (p. 2).  But, we must keep in mind that Verité is a consulting firm, one that specialized in writing monitoring reports for corporations besieged by sweatshop-scandal.  And Verité does not do this activity for free; they are extremely well paid.  In fact, as we shall see, Nike staff members will soon claim that because of the cost of the monitoring, the Kukdong factory is no longer consider by Nike's accountants to be a profitable contract, and as the letter sent by Vada Manager confirms, the contracts are not renewed.

And this monitoring action is a pre-announced visit for a very brief time period, no longer really than our own trip to Atlixco. Four Verité auditors were on site between February 5th and 9th, and that is the extent of the official monitoring study.  There is no random sample of interviews, people are interviewed, but we do not know how they are selected.  Since the sample is not random, then we do not know if twenty other people would tell different stories. And the same challenge can be raised against our own study with only two workers. Yet, anyone we interviewed would be fired or otherwise punished. We do not have corporate permission to interview. We were denied entry to the factory. But, are interviews are nevertheless valid stories of eye witnesses.

 There is a report and press releases written and posted by Nike, FLA, and Verité, but reports and releases are not a requirement of the FLA monitoring; we can assume that the this report must be shown, because of the extent of the media attention. We can also assume that most monitoring reports are never seen, even in edited form by the public. The report makes it appear that conditions are improved, but if the factory has lost its order, what kind of improvement is that?

Verité interviewed Jamie Sanchez Juarez of CROC, which they say is the "factory's union" (p. 1).  There is only one mention in the 22 page report of the workers' initiatives to establish their own union, independent of CROC, and this on p. 19 in an "Editor's Note, "the replacement of the existing union (CROC) with an independent union of their own choosing" (p. 19). But setting up the independent union is the main focus of the women's takeover of the factory, and their attempt to redress problems, in the only way left open to them.

On March 14, 2001 Nike (2001b) issued a press release response to the Verité (2001) report that outlined several remediation action items:

  • FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION – Support workers' freedom to select their own representation in accordance with ILO conventions and local law; Support effective mediation by a neutral government official responsible for overseeing representation/labor disputes;
  • HARASSMENT AND ABUSE – Formalize a harassment and abuse policy and select an independent NGO to provide harassment and abuse training, including cultural awareness, to all factory workers and managers;
  • GRIEVANCE SYSTEM – Provide a confidential grievance procedure for workers to report harassment or abuse;
  • HEALTH AND SAFETY – Specific recommendations related to health and safety, including development of emergency evacuation procedures, sterilization of cafeteria dishes and utensils, proper temperature maintenance, training in the use of fire-fighting equipment.

According to Nike's (2001b) press release, "Verité did not find any tangible evidence of underage workers at Kukdong." This position is reiterated in Nike's (2001c: 2) remediation plan, Verité "found no evidence of child labor." This is quite a shallow claim, since the documentation was missing from the files, and the investigation did not attempt to go any further than the missing data.  In its remediation plan (Nike, 2001c), underage is defined as someone under 16 years of age. The Nike remediation plan (2001c) states "factory to rehire workers who were terminated for participating in the work stoppage."  Yet, many leaders have not been rehired, so this claim is also without merit.

Child Labor - What does the Verité report say about child labor? "Twelve of 29 workers interviewed reported that juvenile workers younger than 16 years of age are employed at the factory, and that such workers work the same hours as adult workers (Verité, 2001: 4). Again, since this is not a random sample, we do not know, if the non-12 were those being bribed to say there were no workers under 16.

  • One worker reported that 20 percent of the factory work force consists of 15-year-old workers.
  • Another worker reported that two 15-year-old workers were employed at the factory.
  • A third worker reported that two 14-year-old workers were employed at the factory.
  • A fourth worker reported that one 15-year-old, one 14-year-old, and one 13-year-old worker were employed at the factory.

The Verité report (2001) then says that "they found no other evidence (independent of workers' statements) of workers younger than 16 years of age working at the factory" (p. 4). In a check of the personnel files there did not find any documents indicating workers under the age of 16. The PWC (Austermuhle, 2000) report on Nike's web site states that many of the personnel files PWC and Austermuhle examined, lacked documentation of worker's age and were missing copies of birth certificates. There is also the Behind the Labor (2001b) video transcript of the 15-year-ol child worker which is not considered in either the Verité (2001) or Nike (2001b, c) reports.

Harassment and Abuse The Verité report indicates that twenty-one of the 29 workers interviewed "reported incidents of abuse and harassment at the factory" (p. 5). The nature of the physical abuse included a "sewing supervisor slaps the female worker and pulls their hair" (p. 5). A Korean supervisor who worked in the sewing section from September 2000 to December 2000 reportedly "grabbed the hands of a female worker and used to chase here in the factory to the point where she would try to hide from him" (p. 5). In the quality-control inspection line from August 2000 to October 2000 there reports that supervisors "used to touch 'all the girls' in a sexually suggestive manner, and that most of the female workers in this section witnessed this behavior" (p. 5). Nike's (2001c) remediation plan is for the factory owners and managers to post a "Harassment and Abuse Policy" (p. 1). Ten workers confirmed earlier reports of verbal abuse, verbal harassment, and psychological harassment. Supervisors, besides yelling and using foul language, threatened workers who did not work faster with "pay deductions: as well as having to "perform domestic work in the houses of Korean supervisors if they did not meet production targets" (p. 6).

Fines and Punishment - Workers are prohibited from using the toilet more than three times in one work day.  Workers must report 10 minutes before the end of their lunch hour for work. Some workers reported that the factory deducts three days' pay for missing one day of work (p. 7).

Records and Forms - Concerning the January 3, 2001 firing of Josefina Hernandez Ponce and four other Mexican supervisors, the Verité audit were able to inspect only Ponce's file, and were told by management that the files of the others were unavailable. There was no letter of dismissal in the Ponce file, as required by Mexican labor law. 14 workers reported that management does ask female job applicants about their pregnancy status, and some forms at the factory include such questions. Pregnant women were reported by six interviews to not being assigned to jobs less physically demanding, as required by Mexican labor law.

Armed Security Patrols - January 30, a Verité observer reported seeing 30 unarmed factory security personnel in civilian clothing patrolling work areas and production lines. 30 armed factory security guards were stationed at the factory gates (p. 8).

Collective Bargaining and Freedom of Association - five Mexican supervisors were fired on January 3rd over issues of freedom of association. 18 or 29 workers interviewed reported that the "factory does not permit workers to form and join unions of their choice."  December 9, 1999 CROC signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Kukdong factory managers before workers were hired. CROC has the right per this agreement to fire and discipline workers who engage in what would otherwise be legal union activities. The agreement with CROC expires January 15, 2002.  Some workers reported they had not been given a copy of the December 1999 collective bargaining agreement between Kukdong and CROC (p. 12). The CROC collective bargaining agreement provides for mandatory overtime (p. 14).

Locked Factory Doors and Exits - There is ample evidence in the Verité report that in the event of a fire, this factory would suffer the loss of many lives. During a recent Popocateptl volcano activity, factory supervisors locked all factory exits, and would not permit workers to leave the factory, and then forced these workers to work overtime (p. 12).  Doors are 22 inches in width making worker exit in an emergency problematic for rooms containing up to 500 workers. Exit signs are not there or not well illuminated. The factory frequently locks its doors during work hours Ip. 14-15). Other exits are blocked by bundles of clothes and other materials.  There are no fire extinguishers in the weaving section. And no workers interviewed reported being trained in fire-fighting equipment use. As we reported in the transcripts, there was already a major fire, and these conditions are not at all safe.

Wages and Compensation - The Nike press release (2001b) and remediation plan (2001c) is silent about he issue of paying less than the legal minimum wages for its garment workers. Sewers at the factory receive 38 pesos (US $3.96) when the legal Mexico minimum wage is 46.3 pesos (US $4.82). Records examined by Verité (2001: 13) indicated that one third of the sewers were being paid a daily base wage below the minimum of 46.3 pesos. Records in the files were inadequate for auditors to verify what are the overtime payments. The Nike (2001c: 3) report only indicates the perception of workers that they are not being paid the legal minimum wage, and does not mention the Verité audit of factory pay records. The last sentence of the Verité report (2001: 20) sates, "according to the U.S. State Department, the legal minimum wage in Mexico do 'not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family'." (see low wages). The Vada Manager letter reports that there have been several pay raises secured by the post-11 independent union SITEMEX, but we are not told how much of a raise. It may be enough to get the workers to the legal minimum, it could be more. We do not know.

Food - Food handling practices in the cafeteria reportedly improved aft the five Mexican supervisors staged a work protest on December 15, 2000 and then were fired on January 3, 2001. Workers complained of the "decomposed, rotten, and disgusting: food being served. The work stoppage on January 9 to 11, 2001 had this as one of the concerns. "The auditors reported that dishes and utensils were not sanitized between meals: (p. 17). Sixteen workers reported "the factory cafeteria is not clean" (p. 17).

Ventilation 21 of the the workers reported that the factory is not well ventilated (p. 18). 27 said the factory is not cooled in summer and 26 reported it is inadequately heated in the winter.

The WRC Monitoring Report - WRC (2001d) delegation interviewed 30 workers. Approximately 30 Kukdong workers. The delegation interviewed workers at the Kukdong factory itself, as well as in three of their home villages (from which workers commute to the factory). These interviewees included both supporters and opponents of the three-day work stoppage that precipitated the complaint to the WRC (2001d: 1). Some of the findings:

Child Labor

  • The Kukdong factory has employed children aged 13 through 15 for workdays of nine to ten hours. (This fact was admitted by Kukdong management.) The employment of workers under age 16 for more than six hours per day violates Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution.
  • Kukdong managers and supervisors have committed, and continue to commit, sporadic acts of physical assault and verbal abuse against workers. These acts range from physical assaults such as blows by hammer and screwdriver, to slaps on the front and back of workers’ heads, to screaming of racial epithets and obscenities. (This fact was admitted by Kukdong managers, although managers disagreed with workers about the frequency and severity of the physical and verbal assaults, and about whether such assaults continued after December 14, 2000.)
  • Many workers at Kukdong are not paid the minimum wage mandated by Mexican law for the occupation of seamstress.
  • On more than one occasion, workers developed rashes, fevers, and stomach disorders after eating rancid meat or other unhealthful food in the factory cafeteria.
  • On January 3, 2001, Kukdong fired five supervisory workers who were leaders of a drive to replace the CROC with a new union.

The WRC report draws several conclusions:

  • Based on the substantial credible evidence capsulized in the previous section, the WRC concludes that affiliated universities have strong grounds for concern that Kukdong may stand in violation of provisions of their Codes of Conduct governing child labor, physical and verbal abuse, payment of minimum or living wages, and freedom of association.
  • In firing the five supervisory employees who are leading supporters of replacing the CROC with a new union, Kukdong violated the principle of freedom of association codified in Mexican law, ILO conventions, and university Codes of Conduct.

Compare the WRC (2001d), Alcalde (2001) and Verité (2001) monitoring reports and one easily sees the later as an apologetic for corporate behavior and a marginalization of the story of Kukdong workers to establish an independent union.

After the three reports were released, workers report that the "neutral" ILO training sponsored by Nike was facilitated by a trainer who repeatedly endorsed the FROC-CROC during the training while not giving the same attention to the independent union.

An independent union leader has reported that a member of the FROC-CROC drives around her house even though he does not live in her hometown and has told her that he was "guarding the chicks so that they would not step out of the fence."

Conclusions

A sweatshop is defined here as a factory where mostly young female workers work in dangerous conditions for long hours for poverty wages. Kukdong was a sweatshop and even with the reforms is still a sweatshop.  Puebla is a Maquiladora, an economic colony of the Western corporate nations where goods are produced for export, and the local government sets aside many tax, environmental and employment laws.  The Puebla factories of Nike and Reebok, as well as Kathie Lee Gifford (Appendix b) meet the criteria of a sweatshop.

The monitoring report by Verité provides evidence that once again Nike and Reebok employ child labor, pay less than the minimum legal country wage, have Korean managers on site that verbally, physically, and sexually abuse workers, allow working conditions that are unsafe and unhealthy. In short, Kukdong is a sweatshop. But, once the report is written, and the corporations file their PR replies, then what happens, they cut their losses and run to find a new contract with some undisclosed sweatshop.  This is not progress, it is the illusion of monitoring, and the sleight of hand that would fool the public into believing that something significant has changed on the stage.

Sweatshop workers are employed by large multinational corporation subcontractors and are trapped in a system of modern day indentured servitude that it can be argued is comparable to slavery. When the Korean ambassador can come into a country such as Mexico and negotiate lower than legal wages, lower than legal age requirements and petition that certain ecology laws are ignored, then the deck is stacked against the workers. In Puebla workers, as in so many other locations, they are denied basic human freedoms like the right to join a union, attend religious services, quit or marry, are paid poverty wages and subjected to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse in unsafe working conditions (GE, 2001). In Puebla, the factory doors are often times locked to prevent the workers from leaving and posing a major hazard in the case of fire. And after the women fought to win their right to organize, what is the result?

While the corporate-financed monitoring industry claims sweatshop is a necessary step to economic progress, the counter claim by the anti-sweatshop movement is the rich corporation gets even richer, while the poor are getting poorer. We find no progress, except the removal of maggots from the food. Workers are still paid poverty wages, have an independent union but without orders, and are still subjected to health and safety hazards (GE, 2001) not to mention the violence and brutality of the current account of Kuk Dong.  Even after the January 12th incident, there are reports of thugs and police patrolling the lines, of strange visits to the homes of workers, and intimidation and violence to those who resist corporate and state rule.

In the last several years, the anti-sweatshop movement has engaged in protest tactics reminiscing of the sit-ins and boycotts during the Vietnam War. It is the most concentrated campaign of corporate resistance in the Western hemisphere.  At the same time corporations are spending more money than they pay Tiger Woods to convince the public that the anti-sweatshop movement is overreacting. And they pay big bucks to monitoring (consulting) firms to make reports about it all. But, this is hardly progress.

The new locus of corporate legitimation is the monitoring industry, and its devices are decidedly theatrical. We are witness to the magician's trick.  The Nike corporate remediation plan ignores the issue of child labor, forced overtime, locked doors, and wages that are less than the legal minimum wage for a third of its sewers, which is most of its work force in Puebla.  Corporate actors speak and interact with copies of media stars. Our attention is diverted to the heroics of Tiger Woods and the recipients of the Reebok Human Rights Award.  The monitoring industry has embraced the new global theater of the computer age, releasing its report along with PR documents on the web. Monitoring is a relatively recent social and global change strategy, an act of the consumer class curious about images of the working class and an act of the corporation to save public face.. The anti-sweatshop carnival theatrics are designed to raise consumer consciousness about ways fashion choices participate in the quality of Third world working life.  The Enlightenment promised by the corporate state complete with fair, equitable and democratic ways is not here yet. The anti-sweatshop industry uses carnival theater to unbrainwash the spectator by exposing the theatrical devices the monitoring industry spin doctors use to deceive the consumer, such as we saw in the movie “Wag the dog” and “The Truman Show.”

Global capitalism is on display as never before. The entire world tunes in to watch a new exposé of child labor in a factory recently certified by corporate monitors as entirely free of it. . In the anti-sweatshop carnival, the worker is invited onto the global sage, but such appearances are quite rare. For the anti-sweatshop movement the only “independent monitor” is a worker, a union, or an NGO antagonistic to the claims of subcontractors and corporations.  The appeal by Josefina Ponce is one such instance. Verité is not an independent monitor; it is a paid corporate consultant writing a report delivered to the corporation.

Monitors in the past, since Marx (1867) have become he official voice of corporate supply chain life. It is through postmodern theater that the anti-sweatshop movement engages and deconstructs the corporate monitoring spectacle of mass production, demanding other stakeholder participate in the monitoring of the workplace experience. The consumption connection of global citizen to the working conditions of the products they buy as fashion brands is an important force in raising standards of working life permissible in late capitalism. Still the silent majority is the work, seduced into working instead of starving, kept alive without the right to speak directly to the consumer; corporate monitors or anti-sweatshop activists simulate worker voices.

The Kuk Dong story is the reenactment of a very old story.  In Marx’s (1867: 240) chapter on “the working-day” he describes how the “Factory Inspectors” allowed the mill-owners to cheat the worker out of wages by making them start 15 minutes early, keep working 5 minutes into breaks, and could teal as mush as 5 hours and 40 minutes each week in uncompensated work time. Reports on the industry were issued by such monitoring agents as the “Children’s Employment Commission” issues between 1863 and 1867 (Marx, 1867: 240, 257). Factory Acts were passed but the inspectors and monitors, then as now, do not monitor too closely.  In the Verité report factory workers must report 10 minutes early to work from their lunch and are fined three days pay if they miss a day of work.  The stretching of the working-day continues.

To us, the Kuk Dong story has a clear moral, the foxes are PWC. Verité, and FLA, and they are guarding a hen house for Nike and Reebok, but as in this rendition of Chicken Run, the workers are growing their own power and may yet rule the roost. As enough women in Mexico follow the example of Kukdong, the maquiladora owners and their transnational corporate benefactors will have no more houses to raid. And then Marx's house of terror will become a distant memory.


Appendix A: the First Reports of Monitors of problems in the Puebla Kuk Dong Factory

Monitoring reports by students sponsored and organized by Nike Corporation to accompany their corporate auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) from Puebla, Mexico factories were being circulated in April 2000 (Kepne, 2000; Austermuhle, 2000). Students from Penn State, such as Martin Austermuhle, received a daylong training on both the monitoring process and Mexican labor laws, and then spent three days accompanying a representative from PWC, an independent monitoring organization hired by Nike to inspect three factories in Puebla (Kepne, 2000; Austermuhle, 2000). According to Austermuhle (2000) he visited the Puebla factors from March 6th to 12th, 2000:

 

“The first factory [with 60 workers was owned and operated by a Mexican firm], a small and isolated building that looked more like a block of cement than a center of employment, dealt with producing, dying, and washing the fabrics needed in later stages of production.”

 

“The second plant was found in a large industrial park, surrounded by other similar factories that produced clothing for a variety of corporations. It was smaller and older looking, and seemed to best resemble what one imagine as an evil sweatshop”  (Austermuhle, 2000). 105 factory workers did the knitting and sewing of Nike polo shirts; it was owned and managed by a Mexican firm.

 

“The third plant, in the shadow of the active volcano Popocatepetl and further away from the city of Puebla, was by far the largest and most modern”  (Austerhuhle, 2000). It had 650 workers doing knitting and sewing and was owned and managed by South Koreans. Nike production took up 85% of factory capacity.

 

Having lived in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Costa Rica, Austermuhle said “he is fluent in Spanish and could easily communicate with the factory workers. Upon arrival at each factory, Austermuhle met with management before touring the plants. However, he said the factories had been given notification of the inspections…”

While touring the plants, Austermuhle said he looked for fire exits, drinkable water and clean bathrooms. Accompanied by the PWC representative, he randomly chose 25 workers in each factory to interview. The two monitors also examined the workers' files, looking for contracts, social security information and proof of age, all of which are required by Mexican law to be on file. They also looked at workers' pay stubs, how many hours employees worked and if overtime was paid. Austermuhle said he discovered many files were missing items, especially social security information and contracts. Others also were missing age verifications. Although Austermuhle and the PWC representative interviewed the employees privately, Austermuhle said the factory management recorded the names of the workers questioned. "Management knew exactly who we were talking to," he they were saying would get back to management and they would lose their jobs" (Kepne, 2000).

 


APPENDIX B: The Kathie Lee Gifford Factory in Puebla, Mexico.

At the Kathie Lee Gifford factory in Puebla, Mexico, workers earn 61 cents per hour -- well below sustenance wages.

Kathie Lee/Wal-Mart Sweatshop in Mexico 

 Ho Lee Modas de Mexico

 Puebla, Mexico  (http://www.nlcnet.org/KATHLEE/elsalvinfo.html; http://www.walmartwatch.com/bad/internal.cfm?subsection_id=110&internal_id=253; http://www.ufcw.org/press/internal.cfm?subsection_id=132&internal_id=185 )

 

      550 workers

      The Ho Lee factory sews women’s blazers, pants and blouses for 

      Wal-Mart and other labels. Kathie Lee garments have been sewn there.

                     

 Sweatshop conditions: 

  

      Forced Overtime: 12 ½ to 14 hour shifts, 6 days a week

      Monday to Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

      Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

 

      There is one 40-minute break in the day for lunch.

      The workers are at the factory between 67 and 79 hours a week. 

      New Employees are forced to take a mandatory pregnancy test.

      For a 48-hour week the workers earn $29.57 or 61 cents an hour which is well below a subsistence wage. 

      Workers are searched on the way in and out of the factory.

      The supervisors yell and scream at the women to work faster.

      Bathrooms are filthy and lack toilet seats or paper. The workers have to manually flush the toilet using buckets of water. Some of the toilets lack lighting. 

      14-15-16 year old minors have been employed in the plants.

      Public access to the plant is prohibited by several heavily armed guards.

 

References

Alden, Edward and Andrea Mandel-Campbell (2001). Sackings dispute hits Nike. Financial Times (London) Friday London Edition. http://www-scf.usc.edu/~scale/financia.htm

AP The Associated Press. January 19, 2001 http://www.behindthelabel.org/bbs/messages/11.html

Asheville (2001) “Mexican sweatshop makes Nike sweatshirts for UNC Atlixco de Puebla, Mexico.” Asheville Global Report.  Jan. 15  http://www.agrnews.org/issues/105/labor.html

Alcalde,  Arturo Justiniani (2001) REGARDING THE CASE OF  “KUK DONG INTERNATIONAL. International Labor Rights Fund report. January 30th http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/nike_pages/ARTURO_ALCALDE_JUSTINIANI_mexico_report.htm  or http://ur.rutgers.edu/news/ACLA/alcaldereport.htm  or http://www.laborrights.org/press/mexican020101.htm ILRF web site at http://www.laborrights.org/ Alcalde was chosen by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) at Nike's request to do this report (see http://pirg.uwaterloo.ca/pipermail/sas/2001-February.txt).

Austermuhle,  Martin (2000) “Nike/PriceWaterhouseCoopers Monitoring Report: Penn State University March 6th-12th, 2000. http://www.nikebiz.com/labor/reports/stud7_1.shtml

Axthelm, Joan & Daisy Pitkin (2001) Workers meet to form independent union; Campaign succeeds in pressuring Nike to take a stand!. March 22 report on Kukdong. http://www.usleap.org/KukDongmain.html

Becerra, Erick (2001) "Niega embajodor que maquiladoras coreans violen derechos de empleados." Sentesis, February 13, R6.  

Behind The Label (2001a) “Nike Workers Stage Protest; Child Labor Documented”  http://www.behindthelabel.org/nike0101/news011501.html

Behind the Labor (2001b) Video transcript of child worker. http://www.behindthelabel.org/nike0101/video/transcript1.html Video at http://www.behindthelabel.org/nike0101/video/index.htm

Boje, D. (2001) AA Industry Tamarahttp://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/AA/athletic_apparel_industry_tamara.htm

Boston Indy Media (2001) “Emergency support for Nike College Apparel workers in Mexico”  9:02pm Wed Jan 10.  http://boston.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=1722

Challenge (1999) April 23rd Report http://www.plp.org/cd97/cd423.html

Clean Clothes Campaign (20010 January 12th Alert http://www.cleanclothes.org/urgent/01-01-01.htm

Connor, Tim (2001) "Nike testing the waters regarding cutting and running from Kuk." April 13, 2001 Nike-related list serve posting. Connor is coordinator of NikeWatch - http://www.caa.org.au/campaigns/nike/

Destroy IMF (2001) Alert. http://www.destroyimf.org/afterprague/news/kukdongstrike.html

Free Press Winter (2000-2001) “Police Raid Strike at Nike Factory in Mexico. ” http://twincities.indymedia.org/local/freepress/page7.pdf

Indiana, Purdue await word on conditions in Mexico plant

GE - Global Exchange (2001a) http://www.globalexchange.org/economy/corporations/

GE – Global Exchange (2001a) http://www.globalexchange.org/economy/corporations/nike/kukdong011401.html

Green Party (2001) http://www.greenparty.org/nike.html

Hernandez, Josefin Ponce (2001) in Atlixco late night meeting with reporter Hadden, Gerry, aired on NPR program All Things Considered, April 20, 2001 (Tape) http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/atc/20010420.atc.03.rmm

Kepne, Alison, (2000)  “For two students, spring break trips offer glimpse into clothing factories.” The Digital Collegian. Thursday, April 13. http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2000/04/04-13-00tdc/04-13-00dnews-11.asp

Labor Bulletin (2001) Workers Attacked and Fired for Demanding Labor Rights - posted January 17, 2001 http://www.egroups.fr/message/antisweat/651

Labor Net (2001) Alert http://www.labor.net.au/news/735.html

La Jornada (2000) 26 January news report summarized in MEXICAN LABOR NEWS AND ANALYSIS, VOL5, NO 1, FEBRUARY, 2000. http://www.igc.org/unitedelect/Vol5no2.html

Maquila Solidarity Network “Mexican workers beaten for supporting an independent union.”  http://www.maquilasolidarity.org/alerts/kukdong.htm            

Marx, Karl (1867). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1. The Process of Capitalist Production. Trans. S. Moore and E. Averling. F. Engles (ed.). NY: International Publishers. First published 1867, English 1967.

Michiagan Daily (2001) “WRC to examine labor allegations in Mexico” An AP release http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily/2001/jan/01-19-2001/news/16.html

Nike (2001a) http://www.nikebiz.com/

Nike (2001b) "Nike develops remediation plan for Kukdong based on recently completed independent audit." (March 14) http://nikebiz.com/media/n_kukdong6.shtml press release.

Nike (2001c) "Kukdong International Mexico , S.A. de C.V. Verité Independent Audit Report Findings: Nike Remediation Plan (March 14).  http://nikebiz.com/media/nike_kuk_rem_plan.pdf  remediation plan.

Revolutionary Worker (1999) “Mexico:  A Flood of Inequality.” Revolutionary Worker #1030, November 14. http://www.rwor.org/a/v21/1030-039/1030/flood1.htm

The Indy Channel (2001) Indiana, Purdue Await Word On Plant Conditions Consortium Monitors Factories For Sweatshop Conditions. Indianapolisy. January 19. http://wrtv.com/ind/news/stories/news-20010119-070858.html

University of Syracuse (2001) “Sweatshop University's open letter to their chancellor  by Student Coalition on organized labor”  Tuesday, January 16. http://mexico.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=558

USAS (2001a). “Police assault strking Kuk Dong workers.” Friday, 12 January, 2001 14:00:35. http://www.nonprofitwatch.org/kennedy/J19NikeRFKprotest.html

USAS (2001b) “United Students Against Sweatshops Emergency Support for College Apparel Workers in Mexico.” 14 January http://www.a16.org/usas/

USAS (2001c) Kukdong strikers attacked: background report. http://www.destroyimf.org/afterprague/news/kukdong2.html

US Labor Education in the Americas Project (2001) Alert http://www.usleap.org/#kukdong  

Verité (2001) Comprehensive Factory Evaluation Report on Kukdong International Mexico, S. A. De C. V. Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico (Audit Date February 5-7, 2001).  http://nikebiz.com/media/nike_verite_report.pdf 22 pages. Verité http://www.verite.org/ homepage.

WRC (2001a)  http://www.workersrights.org

WRC (2001b) “Investigators' Report on Nike Contractor in Mexico Calls for Immediate Action to Enable Illegally Fired Workers to Return to Work”  http://www.workersrights.org/kukdong_release.html

WRC (2001c) "Activity report - Tuesday 6 February 2001Kukdong International" http://www.somo.nl/monitoring/reports/verite-kukdong.htm

WRC (2001d) WRC Investigation re complaint against Kukdong (Mexico) Preliminary Findings and Recommendations. January 24, 2000.

 

CONTACT INFO:


Kukdong International Mexico S.A. de C.V., Retorno de Ave. Continentes Num. 38, Rancho
Los Soles Atlixco de Puebla, Mexico Tel: 011-52-244-61020~3 Fax: 011-52-244-61024

Kukdong Corporation (Korea), Kukdong Building 229-3 Young Dap-Dong, Sungdong-Ku,
Seoul, Korea, Tel: (02) 3407-7701~7905 Fax: (02) 2249-5915, 2243-7776, E-mail:
kukdong@kd.co.kr