Posts tagged pregnancy tests

American universities must help unionize Dominican sweatshops

With baseball season swinging into full gear, take a look at the “made in” label inside the baseball caps many of us wear. You may be surprised to learn that the cap you’re wearing was made under inhumane working conditions in places like the Dominican Republic.

Sweatshop workers stitch logos into caps for Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and the NFL.

Many college caps are made there, too. One company, BJ&B, for example, manufactures caps for the Universities of North CarolinaChapel Hill, Missouri, Connecticut, Arizona, Louisiana State, Cornell, Northwestern, Penn State, Tulane and Purdue.

College logo apparel sales are estimated at $2.5 billion annually, according to the Chicago Tribune. The industry is a classic profit pyramid, with workers constituting the exploited bottom rung.

Here’s how it works: A university licenses its name and logo to American apparel distributors—such as Nike, Starter, Champion and Reebok—and earns about $1.50 per cap. BJ&B pays the worker 8 cents per cap. At that pay rate, a worker takes home $40 for a typical 56-hour workweek, as calculated by UNITE, an anti-sweatshop lobbying group. The total cost of making the cap comes out to about $6.08, but consumers pay about $19.95 for the cap.

The big winners are BJ&B’s corporate parent, Yoopong Group in Korea, one of the largest cap producers in the world, and the American corporations that act as middlemen. Yoopong makes 14.4 million caps in the Dominican Republic alone.

The Spanish name for the industrial areas is “zona franca.” It translates into “industrial free-trade zone,” which means companies located there are exempt from import fees and income taxes. But for tens of thousands of Dominican factory workers, what it really means is “unregulated worker exploitation zone.”

Thanks to continued pressure from American universities and companies, BJ&B workers were allowed to form a union in March and settled their first contract with management. The unionized workers now constitute the largest democratic, independent union in the free-trade zones of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. More unions are necessary. Working conditions at many of the 500 foreignowned factories throughout the country are reprehensible. Health and safety hazards, arbitrary disciplining by ruthless managers, women being forced to take pregnancy tests prior to being hired, forced overtime, wage discrimination against women, no safe drinking water, no benefits, no overtime or productivity incentives are commonplace.

"They would humiliate you verbally, but you took it because there was no other place to work," a former BJ&B worker-turned-union-activist told The New York Times recently.

Fortunately, many college students have recognized the need to act against sweatshops. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has mobilized almost 200 university groups to compel their schools to take action. One of the demands is a unified code to regulate and monitor the factories.

So far Duke, Brown and Notre Dame are among the universities that have adopted a version of the Code of Conduct for University Trademark Licensees, which makes the manufacturer subject to labor and human-rights standards. The code requires public disclosure of factory addresses, living wages, independent monitoring, freedom to unionize, and safe working conditions, no forced labor, no child labor, women’s rights and independent monitoring.

"Sweatshops are hidden and they proliferate as long as they’re hidden," asserts Steven Weingarten of the Union of Needle trade, Industrial and Textile Employees.

American universities and professional sports leagues ought to step up to the plate and demand decent pay and better working conditions for the people who make our caps.

Copyright The Gazette Newspaper Group Jun 4, 2003

19 notes

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor and carries a possible penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 pesos (approximately $286); however, union leaders reported that the law was not enforced, and sexual harassment was a problem.

Although the law provides that women have the same legal status as men, in practice women experienced discrimination. Women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to those of men, and men held most leadership positions in all sectors. In many instances women received less pay than men in jobs of equal content and requiring equal skills. Some employers reportedly gave pregnancy tests to women before hiring them, as part of a required medical examination. Although it is illegal to discriminate based on such tests, NGO leaders reported that pregnant women often were not hired and that female employees who became pregnant sometimes were fired. There were no effective government programs to combat economic discrimination against women.