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WTO Urged to Hold Guatemalan Government Accountable for Maquila Abuses

International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation
January 18th, 2002

A WTO review of Guatemala's trade policies has prompted international labour to spotlight that government's total failure to uphold freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.

In a letter to WTO General Secretary Mike Moore, the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) drew attention to the notorious conflict at twin Korean-owned garment plants, Choishin and Cimatextiles, which produce for export to the United States.

Last July, workers at the two plants attempted to organise workplace unions under the umbrella of the union federation FESTRAS. Since then, actions by management have included inciting non-union workers to commit violence, to the point where the lives of union supporters may be at risk if they go to work; failing to take disciplinary measures against workers guilty of such violence; bribing workers to resign from the union or securing letters of resignation from union members under duress; and threatening leaders with blacklisting.

ITGLWF General Secretary Neil Kearney said that such gross violations of the right to organise demonstrate clearly the need for a social dimension to trade and the need to hold the government of Guatamala to account.

The WTOs monitoring mechanism is intended to encourage governments to fulfill the commitments they have entered into at the WTO, including the commitment of all members to respect core labour standards, which was reaffirmed at the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Qatar. Mr. Kearney urged the WTO to use this opportunity to put pressure on the government of Guatemala to live up to that pledge.

The Choishin/Cimatextiles case also featured in a scathing report by the International Confederation of Trade Unions, released to coincide with the Trade Policy Review of Guatemala. The report condemns governmental apathy and inaction in the face a worsening trend of harassment, violence and murder against unions and their members.

Guatemalas maquila sector in particular is notorious for anti-union behaviour, to such an extent that there are currently no collective agreements between employers and any of the more than 80,000 workers in this sector. It is common practice for factories to close down shortly after the formation of a union, and move production elsewhere, says the ICFTU report.

The WTO Review is taking place from 16 to 18 January in Geneva.

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The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation is an International Trade Secretariat bringing together 225 affiliated organisations in 110 countries with a combined membership of 10 million workers.

For more information, contact: Neil Kearney (General Secretary) at 32/475932487 (mobile) or ITGLWF Secretariat at tel: 32/2/512.2606, fax: 32/2/512.0904 or office@itglwf.org





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