More than just garments

By the

February 2, 2006

Working conditions have changed dramatically for workers in one El Salvadoran factory with the help of Georgetown students.

“At other factories, they yell at you so much and you can’t even get time off to go to the doctor,” Sonia Marta Diaz, a union organizer at the Just Garments factory, said. “At Just Garments, there isn’t that type of verbal and psychological abuse.”

Yesterday, Georgetown students completed a $16,000 campaign to prevent threatened power cuts for the factory

According to its web site, Just Garments began operations in 2003 after a long but successful fight to unionize under its previous owners. The owners temporarily closed the plant, but eventually caved to international pressure to reopen with more worker representation, a director chosen and representative of the workers.

Under a new business development grant, workers now own over half of the company’s stock, according to the company’s web site.

Megan Murphy (COL ‘06), who traveled to the factory, said she believed the funds had both literal and symbolic importance for the factory’s future. A failure to raise the funds would have signaled to the already discouraged workers that the operation did not have the international support it needed to sustain itself.

This Tuesday, American volunteers frantically made phone calls requesting donations. The factory’s long-term needs require continuous funding in the form of a business plan designed to make the factory sustainable.

As an international intern for United Students Against Sweatshops, Murphy traveled to Just Garments and other factories in El Salvador over the summer and witnessed what she described as deplorable conditions.

“There were rats and sanitary napkins in the workers’ drinking water,” she said.

As Murphy and others continue fundraising, Holly May (MSB ‘08) is developing a business plan based on a rough sketch that the workers provided to her.

“The 14-page document they gave me is not written for an investor,” May said. “Where I come in is to get people’s critique of it and put together some semblance of a business plan that looks at what is feasible for them to sell and why people should buy their t-shirt.”

May hopes that a good business plan will help the factory attract investors and prove that fair wage practices can be profitable.

“If Just Garments succeeds, other workers know that they can do the same thing,” May said.

“We are going to need a lot of help to end up ahead,” Diaz said. “But I can see that my fellow workers want to keep fighting. We’ll keep fighting because bit by bit, all the help really adds up.”

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