21 / 06 / 2004 Gloria Rafaela Córdova, sewing machine operator: “Beneath the tag hide the tiredness, pain and illness of many women workers in Guatemala”
141 Forum Questions (43): “Fashion and Exploitation: What does the tag leave out?” Gloria Rafaela Córdova Miranda, sewing machine operator and general secretary of the SITRACIMA union, and Ana Lucrecia Bautista González, coordinator of the monitoring and verification for the organization Comisión de Verificación de Códigos de Conducta (Conduct Control Monitoring Commission), both pointed at that tags do not show the harsh reality of labor exploitation of textile workers in Guatemala.
Gloria Rafaela Córdova Miranda was clear: “Under the tag hide the tiredness, pain and illness faced by many women workers in Guatemala.” Ana Lucrecia Bautista of the Comisión de Verificación de Códigos de Conducta said “the clothing tags don’t reflect the labor conditions of the textile workers in Guatemala, 70% of whom are women.” She thinks there should be a stamp or tag stating the conditions under which the product is made. Furthermore, she added, “There is no sense in demanding this of a specific company or brand, it would have to be global. To certify that it is a fair trade product or that the worker received a fair salary.”
Of the 800 or so companies in Guatemala, only 300 are legal. 65% of these are backed by foreign capital, mostly Korean. The Guatemalan government encourages international companies to come as they have created over 100,000 jobs in the past several years. “These companies enjoy fiscal advantages for their first ten years, then they change their name and start anew” said Bautista. “Also there is a lot of fraud in the social security system. The social security contribution is deducted from workers’ salaries but the companies don’t pay the tax. While the workers are supposedly contributing to the system they can’t go to the doctor and don’t even have a national health card.” Córdova added that many of the businesspeople do not even speak Spanish. “We have to invent a sort of mixed language between Spanish and Korean.”
The minimum salary in Guatemala is 160 euros a month and the median age of workers is 20-22. Although legally the work day is only 8 hours long, in reality workers put in 10 to 12 hour days under stressful, exploitive conditions. As Gloria Rafaela Córdova said, “When we formed the union in our company - Cimatextiles S.A.- there was a lot of repression, they pushed us, they attacked us, they threw us out on the street…The union situation is very difficult. Finally, we achieved a collective bargaining agreement due to claims filed against the company and the action of international NGOs. There was pressure on the Guatemalan government to correct our situation.”
Córdova and Bautista showed themselves to be optimistic about the future. “If rights are globalized, that means there is hope and faith for improving labor conditions for many women in Guatemala. I think there will be a change, we have to trust in the unions to stop injustice. There are many things that can bring us together in this struggle,” she concluded.