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Cong. McKinney 
& NLC examine Nicargua sweatshop goods

fired union leaders
1   2

entering Las Mercedes
free trade zone

3   4   5   6

Chentex Factory
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15   16   17   18

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workers entering free trade zone
22   23   24   25

26   27

harassed Chentex worker

Cong. McKinney 
on AAFES sweatshop purchasing

Chentex union rally & march
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Workers homes
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50   51

Workers transportation
52   53   54

Delegation photos
55   56   57

Cong. McKinney 
on AAFES sweatshop purchasing

House Legislation USTR condemns 
Nicaragua's sweatshops in public while the AAFES buys from them 
in the shadows

"Our government is supporting & coddling sweatshop labor"

December 5, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC   Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) a member of the Armed Services Committee and ranking member of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee criticized the Army and Airforce Exchange Service (AAFES) policy of purchasing goods from overseas sweatshops.

"Workers at the Chentex factory in Nicaragua are paid 18 cents per pair of jeans that are sold to AAFES. Workers there were fired for seeking an 8-cent wage increase. As a major purchaser of clothing from this factory, and as a governmental agency, the AAFES must put pressure on the Chentex factory to honor this modest increase in pay. "Evidence showing that the AAFES is a major purchaser of sweatshop made goods is deeply troubling," stated McKinney.

"The US government is supposed to be a force for good in the world, not an enabler of oppression. The American people need to know that taxpayer money is being used to sponsor the degradation of labor rights and human rights abroad. Surely our Department of Defense, which pays $500 for a hammer, could afford an 8 cent increase in a pair of jeans. The United States government is the last place that should be supporting and coddling sweatshops labor and the violation of human rights," said McKinney.

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is the author and sponsor of the Corporate Code of Conduct Act (HR 4596). This legislation gives strict guidelines for US companies to follow in their overseas operations in terms of labor rights, human rights, and environmental protection. "The US needs to stand up for worker rights abroad," concluded McKinney.

    AAFES Statement
    Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
I would like to commend the work of Charlie Kernaghan and the National Labor Committee for calling this important press conference. I would also like to thank my friend and colleague Representative Sherrod Brown for all the work he has done on behalf of worker rights and human rights around the world, and in particular, for the workers of the Chentex factory in Nicaragua.

The National Labor Committee has revealed some troubling information today. Unfortunately, I was not surprised when I learned about the two faces of the US government. How could I be surprised, when I see the human rights legacy of the Clinton Administration to the oppressed and indigenous peoples of the world;
decreased emphasis on human rights;
increased US corporate global penetration;
more wretchedness for the already wretched of the earth;
a loss of America's moral soul.

The plight of the workers in the Chentex factory is not an isolated incident. This is happening all over the world. What kind of message is the US sending to developing nations in our trade strategy?

On the one hand, Charlene Barshefsky asked Nicaragua to clean up its act, and respect the rights of the workers in the Chentex factory.

On the other hand, the US military is one of the largest purchasers from that very same factory.

So now we have the USTR saying one thing, and the Pentagon doing another. The US speaks then with forked tongue, and the lives of the poor workers do not improve.

It must make the US look like a hypocrite, if we talk about human rights, worker rights, and then have the AAFES buy millions of dollars of goods from Chentex, in a way that violates those very principles. The message sent is that not only does the US government tolerate sweatshops, it supports sweatshops.

The actions of AAFES undermine our ability as a nation to promote American values abroad. AAFES should become a model of human and worker rights. AAFES should set the standard for US companies.

Our quality of life in the US is unnecessarily bound to making more miserable the quality of life of the wretched of the earth. So now we call upon AAFES to respect and follow its own core values:

    a. Integrity
    b. Trust
    c. Accountability
    d. Compassion
I ask AAFES in particular, to exercise its conscience, say that slave labor, sweatshop labor, child labor are abhorrent practices that run counter to everything that we as a nation stand for. The combination of the pitiful low Chentex wage and the paltry amount being asked for by the workers is terrible but illustrative of our point. They don't want to give the workers another 8 cents. This coming from a military which spends billions of taxpayer dollars without batting an eyelash. Paying $500 for a hammer, spending $60 Billion on the Star Wars program, and calling for another $60 Billion for deployment of a system that doesn't work. In the end it will cost every family of four in the United States $1,760.56. This same military tells us they can't spare another 8 cents more for a pair of jeans.

It seems these companies react to unions like slaveholders reacted to slave revolts; but time is not on the companies' side. These conditions are not sustainable and the people will fight back, and when they do, they'll have the support of people like us.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said; "Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere." We wouldn't stand for this kind of behavior in America.

In today's global economy, thanks to reckless pursuit to sit atop the globalization heap, it's increasingly difficult for conscientious shoppers to know that what they're buying has zero content sweatshop labor.

That's why I introduced the Corporate Code of Conduct Act. This legislation would assure the American people that no US Corporation is receiving subsidies and then going abroad and violating human rights.

If these companies aren't careful, "Workers of the World, Unite" won't be just a hackneyed, out of date slogan. It'll mean survival for people of conscience and for the wretched of the earth.

After this press conference today, Sherrod Brown, other concerned colleagues and myself will send a letter to the Department of Defense requesting a briefing from AAFES. We will call for a GAO investigation into the labor and worker practices of AAFES. We will hold them to their core values, and press them to use their influence at the Chentex factory to reinstate the workers fired because the chose to exercise their right to unionize. Furthermore, the bogus charges against the 11 brave union leaders must be dropped. I plan to contact Chentex directly about these allegations, and travel to Nicaragua to see the situation at the factory first hand.

Critics Calling U.S. Supplier in Nicaragua a "Sweatshop"
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE NY Times Dec. 3, 2000

An arm of the Pentagon has come under fire for procuring large quantities of apparel from a Nicaraguan factory that labor rights groups say is a sweatshop and that the United States trade representative has voiced serious concerns about.

Several members of Congress say it is wrong for the Pentagon agency, which runs 1,400 stores at military bases and made $7.3 billion in sales last year, to obtain apparel from the Chentex factory, which a Nicaraguan union has accused of firing more than 150 union supporters.

In an unusually stern letter, The United States trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, warned the Nicaraguan government in October that the United States might rescind some trade benefits unless it moved to ensure that Chentex complied with labor laws.

Labor rights groups in the United States have mounted an intense campaign against Chentex, a factory with 1,800 workers that is owned by the Nien Hsing Textile Company, after Nicaraguan workers accused the company of illegal firings. Many workers also complain about low pay, monitored bathroom visits, large amounts of mandatory overtime and being screamed at and occasionally hit by managers.

Cynthia A. McKinney, Democrat of Georgia, who sits on the procurement subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was wrong for one federal agency, the Pentagon, to buy large amounts of apparel from Chentex while another, the trade representative's office, had singled out the factory for criticism.

Representative McKinney and several other House members are working closely with a labor rights group that has obtained shipping documents showing that the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, a nonprofit Pentagon arm that runs the post exchanges, is one of the Chentex's largest customers. Other major customers have included the retailers Wal-Mart and Kohl's.

"The United States government is the last place that should be supporting and coddling sweatshop labor and the violation of human rights," Ms. McKinney said.

Labor rights groups and several House members say the Chentex battle is important because it seeks to upgrade wages and working conditions in poor nations at a time when the American economy is importing more goods than ever and American companies are relocating operations to low-wage countries.

Fred Bluhm, a spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said that in light of the many criticisms of Chentex the exchange service sent officials to Nicaragua to examine the Chentex operation. "Our representative who went there found no problems," he said.

Carlos Yin, the general manager of Chentex, said in a telephone interview that his company treats its workers well. He accused the union of exagerating problems and he insisted that only 12 union supporters had been fired, all of them union leaders. He said they were dismissed legally, asserting that it was the union leaders who had broken the law by calling a one-hour work stoppage and two- day strike without the workers' approval.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Mr. Yin said. "Nicaraguan law protects the workers very strong, and we can't go against the law."

But Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, a New York-based labor rights group, said the company dismissed far more than 100 union supporters after they went on strike demanding a 40 percent wage increase.

At a factory that sews 35,000 pair of jeans a day, employees earn about 20 cents for the work they put into a pair of jeans that often sell retail for $30 in the United States. The workers, in effect, demanded to be paid 8 cents more per pair.

Mr. Yin, the factory manager, said all of his workers earn at least the minimum wage, which union leaders say is set unrealistically low in developing countries in order to attract foreign investment. Last summer, Representative Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, visited Nicaragua and met mother who worked at Chentex 60 hours a week, while her husband worked at another Nien Hsing factory for 70 hours a week, and yet they lived in a hut with a dirt floor. "The couple had a 3-year-old daughter with discolored tips of her hair, probably from a protein deficiency," he said. "These are people who work 60, 70 hours a week, and their standard of living is just abysmal."

Mr. Brown, who got 67 House members to sign a letter to President Clinton last July about conditions at Chentex and another Nicaraguan factory, Mil Colores, said he would hold a news conference this week criticizing the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

"I'm outraged that American taxpayers are being made part of this sweatshop global economy in this way," he said.

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