“We are harassed, exploited and even attacked by owners as well as other Guatemalan workers, because they say that they’ll lose their jobs due to the union.” This was the testimony offered by Gloria Rafaela Córdova Miranda, one of the workers who participated in the Dialogue “What’s hiding behind your clothes? Women’s Work in Globalized Production Chains” organized by Oxfam and Setem as part of the Forum Barcelona 2004. In front of an audience of 700 people, Gloria Rafaela described, in detail, the physical aggressions that members of the union went through in 2001 when they tried to improve women’s work conditions in textile factories in Guatemala.
The audience listened in awe to the testimony of women who have seen their workmates have miscarriages on the shop floor, women who are not allowed to leave their work station to drink water–as to reduce trips to the bathroom—, women who are forced to work 22-hour uninterrupted shifts and are paid 159 dollars a month, when it takes 179 dollars to buy a month’s worth of food in Guatemala. Along with Gloria Rafaela, from the Cimatextiles union, Lucrecia Bautista, from the Comisión para la Verificación de los Códigos de Conducta de Guatemala (Code of Conducts Monitoring Commission of Guatemala) and Aboubakr El-Khamlichi, representative of the Attawassoul Women Textile Workers Association in Tangiers, Morocco participated in the Dialogue.
They were the stars of this round table, in which Judit Mascó also participated. Ms Mascó called for consumers to be more active in demanding information about the conditions under which the clothes they buy were made. “When I learned how many of the clothes I helped sell with my image were made I felt guilty and I realized that, although I live in the fashion world, my testimony could help change things. Now I’m an expert at demanding explanations. I think it’s more effective than boycotting.”
During the second part of the Dialogue, representatives of government, trade unions, companies and the public (the latter of which were students who took part in a pedagogical project by Intermon Oxfam called “Connecting Worlds”) agreed that all social agents share the responsibility of finding a solution for the lack of rights of workers in the South. Josep Maria Rañé, the councilor for Labor and Industry for the Autonomous Government of Catalonia, stated that we need to be able to demand that companies and government comply with international agreements on worker protection. He argued that, to achieve this, we need concrete rules and measures and action on the part of independent agencies that audit companies’ working conditions on all levels of the production.
“What we cannot do is ask the market to do something it does not know how to: create equality”, stated Rañé, who supports implementing general rules that companies must abide by. Josep Maria Álvarez, secretary general of the Catalan branch of Spanish trade union UGT, argued that it should be mandatory for all governments to fulfill the International Labor Organization’s collective bargaining agreements in order to sign international trade agreements within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Joan Canals (Fomento del Trabajo Nacional) y Mercè Campabadal (CCOO) participated in the second round table. A dozen young students from throughout Spain brought the event to a close by reading the conclusions drawn from the project “Connecting Worlds”. The changes students call for range from changing people’s attitudes towards consumption and on the domestic front to demanding governments to promote respect for labor rights for all workers, especially women. The over 8,000 students who took part in this pedagogical project have also made a “quilt of dreams” out of hundreds of remnants with wishes of solidarity written on them. The quilt was put up in the room where the Dialogue took place. It will be used to send a message of protest next week when the Olympic torch arrives in Barcelona to, within the framework of the “Fair Play in the Olympics” campaign, publicly call for the protection of the rights of the workers who make sportswear.
For more information:
Lourdes Vergés: 93 482 07 81 / 699 984 800 lverges@IntermonOxfam.org
Marta Solé: 93 482 08 42 / 646 975 904 msole@IntermonOxfam.org
Toni Codina/Anna Vives: 93 441 53 35 email@example.com