Wal-Mart factory workers assaulted, fired for going on strike
In early September, 2006, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and MSN received an urgent request for the Philippine Workers' Assistance Centre (WAC) to assist Chong Won workers who were being harassed, intimidated and physically assaulted for supporting their union.
WAC also reported that two union leaders had been unjustly fired and that company security guards had distributed flyers to the workers threatening that if they voted in favour of a strike, the company would lose orders and the factory would close.
In the days and months that followed, the workers were forced to go on strike because their employer refused to negotiate with their union, a number of strikers were assaulted by EPZ police, 117 of the strikers were served termination notices, and many of the strikers were denied entry into the Export Processing Zone, leaving a handful of workers on the picket line. WAC's chairperson, Bishop Alberto Ramento, was brutally murdered after being placed on a military hit list. Two union activists from the Solidarity of the Cavité Workers were shot, killing one instantly.
Despite these enormous challenges, the workers fought long and hard to defend their union and their rights. MSN and ILRF pressured Wal-Mart, the factory's biggest customer, to act to protect the rights of the workers. The Worker Rights Consortium conducted an independent investigation of the complaints and confirmed egregious violations of worker rights at the factory. A subsequent investigation carried out by Verité on behalf of Wal-Mart confirmed those conclusions. At MSN's request, seven major brands sourcing from the Philippines spoke out publicly on the pattern of violence against trade union and human rights promoters in the country, and eight companies reiterated the call for an independent investigation a second time in August 2007.
And, for the first time in MSN's experience, Wal-Mart proved willing to engage with its critics and to take a stand on the right to freedom of association at its supply factory, rather than cutting and running from the controversial factory.
Unfortunately, the factory's management proved so resistant to the idea of a trade union at its factory that they preferred to forego Wal-Mart's business and close the facility entirely rather than negotiate with the union. The Chong Won facility closed in the spring of 2007.
For MSN, the Chong Won campaign was significant in that Wal-Mart accepted the results of a Verité report that addressed freedom of association at its supply factory and demanded respect for the workers trade union rights as a condition of future business. MSN was also able to harness the support of major foreign brands sourcing in the Philippines to push for human rights guarantees within the country.
However, the case illustrates how a recalcitrant owner can shut down its factory and open a new business even in situations where the buyer is supportive of corrective action. The challenge for the future is to identify the best ways and means of challenging the power of a manufacturer on all levels so that "cutting and running" at the manufacturer level becomes impossible. Our networks also need to successfully address the negative pressure from buyers (including lower prices and short lead times) that make acceptance of a trade union at the factory level anathema to factory owners.
And, attacks on labour and human rights advocates in the Philippines continue.
Despite growing pressure on the Philippine government to put a stop to the violence and entra-judicial killings of trade unionists and human rights activists, attacks continue. It is believed that the attacks are sanctioned by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and its police force.
Canadian church, human rights and trade union organizations, including MSN, are calling on Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to launch an independent investigation into recent armed attacks and death threats against striking workers at the Chong Won Fashion garment factory.
Send a letter to Wal-Mart today, urging the world's largest and most powerful retailer to use its considerable influence to put a stop to blatant and serious violations of workers' rights at the Chong Won supply factory in the Philippines. To send a letter immediately, click here.
The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) released the results of an independent investigation of the Chong Won Fashion Inc. factory in the Philippines on February 21, 2007. On March 26, 2007, Wal-Mart released a synopsis of a report by the US monitoring organization Verité. Both reports confirmed serious abuses of worker rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining at the factory.
Three months after receiving reports of serious worker rights abuses and police violence against protesting workers at its Chong Won Fashion supply factory in the Philippines, Wal-Mart is still delaying taking the necessary steps to fix the problem. Take action now.
At MSN's request, seven major US apparel companies have added their names to a joint letter to the Philippine government, raising concerns about the alleged violent attacks on workers and human rights promoters in the Cavite Export Processing Zone. Read the letter here.
In a letter to the president of Philippine, KAIROS has expressed deep concern about the repression and violence against labour rights advocates and human rights defenders.
Workers producing clothes for Wal-Mart at the Korean-owned Chong Won Fashion garment factory in the Philippines desperately need your support to put a stop to their employers’ attempt to destroy their union through violence, mass firings and intimidation.
This morning a combined force of municipal and free trade zone police and private security guards attacked the Chong Won strikers who were peacefully picketing outside the factory gates as the police escorted scab replacement workers into the factory.