Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Sweatshop workers share their stories

October 3, 2000

Women at a Nicaraguan sweatshop sometimes work 14 hours a day, endure periodic searches, violence and find dead fetuses in bathrooms.

They make jeans that sell for $30 a pair. And they brought their tales with them to MSU on Monday.

“Often we were hit, and if we made a mistake on a piece of clothing, we were given it back and told to make it again,” said Angelica Maria Perez Ramires, a former Nicaraguan worker who was a member of the factory’s union.

MSU Students for Academic Justice, formerly known as United Students Against Sweatshops, held a forum Monday, hosting Ramires and another Nicaraguan clothing factory worker. Charles Kernigahn, the executive director of the National Labor Committee who has fought sweatshops worldwide, also attended.

Women at the factory, Ramires said, are only allowed two or three bathroom breaks per day and are subjected to cavity searches before and after work. Pregnant women are not allowed to work, and fetuses were often found dead on bathroom floors.

Kernigahn and the workers were calling on students to protest Kohl’s Department Store and Target Corp., because they claim Nicaraguan factories contracted by the stores are sweatshops.

Zenaida del Carmen Torres Avioles was the leader of a labor movement that asked for an eight cent raise, up from 20 cents per pair of jeans.

To protest poor working conditions and low pay, Avioles began work stoppages that led to more than 700 workers being fired and black-listed from Nicaraguan factories. She said barbed wire was put up around the factory afterward.

Kernigahn, Ramires and Avioles will be touring retail stores and college campuses across the country this month to protest rights violations.

“When they tried to climb out of misery and into poverty by asking for a raise, they were fired and have to live like this,” Kernigahn said.

Aaron Moore, an interdisciplinary studies and international studies junior and a member of Students for Academic Justice, said he agrees with the message the workers sent out.

“It’s about time we, as students and consumers, buy the clothes we want without feeling guilty about where the products are made,” he said.

Recently, colleges across the country have become increasingly involved in an anti-sweatshop movement. Earlier this year, students asked administrators to join the Worker Rights Consortium, which was founded by students and human-rights activists.

Several universities held well-publicized protests, including the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Both joined the consortium. Students at MSU called on President M. Peter McPherson to ditch the Fair Labor Association, which the university is a member of, in favor of the consortium.

MSU is still affiliated with the association because McPherson has criticized the consortium for not keeping factory officials involved in labor-monitoring. The association consists of university and factory officials.

He said he welcomes student input.

“It’s excellent that students are showing it is an important matter,” he said Monday.

State News staff writer Amy Stanton contributed to this report.


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