Metal Bones: Working in a sweatshop in Honduras

Honduras and Nicaragua are two Central American countries that are home to many North American sweatshop companies like Russell Brand, Hanes and Gildan.

Like many North American transnational companies including those involved in the apparel industry, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important marketing strategy in promoting the clean and responsible image of the companies. Building schools, providing scholarships, buying supplies, funding a new community police, implementing voluntary ergonomics programs in sweatshops, etc. Its all part of the CSR myth that ultimately serves as nothing but a good argument why companies don't need legal regulations ..... they are already responsible as it is!

Doesn't Montreal, Canada-based Gildan's advertisement below make you really want to buy some of its stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange? Or what about their web page devoted entirely to CSR?

On the flip side, the affected populations of these companies often tell different stories. Speaking with Honduran women working in Gildan's factories, Gildan is known amongst the sweatshop working population in Honduras as being one of the biggest violators of workers' rights. Repetitive work, long hours, high production quotas, minimal air conditioning in the large factory and a health clinic that will hand you some pills or inject you with meds, if you complain about occupational health problems.

One worker, recently fired from her position in a Gildan factory told me that the company's medical professionals kept giving her medication when she complained of an inflamed shoulder, for almost a year, promising that they would inspect her work post and consider transferring her to another position in the factory. This would have allowed her to change her repetitive movements which involved sewing the sleeves on 500 dozen t-shirts per day.

Question: How many times did you go to Gildan's health clinic inside the factory complaining about pain in your shoulder?

Worker: "On many occasions because when one goes to the clinic for the first time, they usually say the pain is from stress. After going various times, the doctor told me that she was going to evaluate my work post and every time I went to the clinic to see her with an inflamed shoulder, she would send me home and tell me she would do the evaluation. She said this 5 times but she never did it. My supervisor was well aware that I was sick because when I got up from my machine, like when I felt I couldn't produce anymore because I couldn't stand the pain, I received a lot of pressure from my fellow workers [in sweatshops they work in teams of 26 and all push each other to make the production quota in order to make less than $75/week] - they would tell me to hurry up and that they don't want people on their team that can't work ..."

Another worker suffering from back and shoulder pain made a reference to 'metal bones' as in workers are not treated like humans and instead are expected to operate like robots as if they have metal bones.


So back to CSR, a topic that I'd rather forget about but that infuriates me every time I hear sweatshop workers complain of their horrible working conditions and occupational health problems. I think I'll just share a great quote from a man that worked in an industry that for decades used CSR to hide the negative health effects of tobacco smoke on the population.

The Social reporting process or corporate social responsibility "will not only help British American Tobacco achieve a position of recognized responsibility but also provide 'air cover' from criticism while improvements are being made. Essentially, it provides a degree of publicly-endorsed amnesty" - Michael Prideaux, British American Tobacco (1999)