US retail giants urge Arroyo to protect human, labor rights
Date of publication: November 11, 2006
Source: Inquirer (Philippines)
By Nonoy Espina
IN THE latest broadside against the Philippine government’s rights record, seven major American retail outfits that source garments from the Philippines have written President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo calling for more “proactive measures” to protect human and labor rights and right advocates.
The November 7 letter, a copy of which was obtained by INQ7.net, was written in the wake of reports about “violent attacks on striking workers and the assaults and killings of labor rights promoters,” particularly in the Cavite Export Processing Zone.
The letter also urged Arroyo to “support, and fully cooperate with, independent and impartial investigations into the killing” of Philippine Independent Church Bishop Alberto Ramento, who, it said, was also chair of the Board of Directors of the Workers Assistance Center, “and the shooting of Gerardo Cristobal, former union president and a member of the Solidarity of Cavite Workers.”
Ramento was found stabbed dead in his home in Tarlac City on October 3 while Cristobal was ambushed April 28.
Two of the signatories, Guy D. Bradford, vice president for Corporate Responsibility and Customs and compliance officer of American Eagle Outfitters; and Laura Wittman, vice president for Compliance and Human Rights of the Jones Apparel Group, whose brands include Anne Klein and Nine West, subsequently confirmed the letter following e-mailed inquiries.
Bradford also informed INQ7.net that the Canada-based non-government organization (NGO) Maquila Solidarity Network “helped to organize this joint letter.”
Maquila describes itself as a network “promoting solidarity with groups in Mexico, Central America, Africa and Asia organizing in maquiladora factories and export processing zones to improve conditions and win a living wage.”
The letter is part of a campaign launched by Maquila in reaction to reports of the violent dispersal in late September of striking workers of the Korean-owned Chong Won Fashion Inc. and Phils. Jeon Garments Inc. at the Cavite Export Processing Zone.
Aside from Bradford and Wittman, the other signatories of the letter are Dan Henkle, senior vice president of Social Responsibility at Gap Inc.; Daryl Brown, vice president
For Business Ethics and Compliance at Liz Claiborne; Marcela Manubens, vice president for Global Human Rights and Social Responsibility Programs of Phillips-Van Heusen; David M.Uricioli, senior director for Global Human Rights Compliance of Polo Ralph Lauren; and Rajan Kamalanathan, director of compliance for Global Procurement of Wal-Mart.
According to an article on the Maquila Website, Wal-Mart is one of the major purchasers of Chong Won Fashion.
Copies of the letter were also addressed to Philippine Economic Zone Authority director general Lilia De Lima, Cavite Governor Ireneo Maliksi and Commission on Human Rights chair Purificacion Quisumbing.
The letter said the US garments retail industry “is alarmed by such reports and urges your immediate attention to the situation,” particularly on “allegations that Municipal and Export Processing Zone police may have been involved in some of these alleged attacks and assaults.”
It also cited reports that “Export Processing Zone authorities have banned some striking workers from entering the Cavite Export Processing Zone” and the fear of the workers “that the recent actions taken by the Zone Authorities could result in blacklisting in which employers might discriminate against them in the future solely because they exercised their right to freedom of association, which is in accordance with the Philippines laws and internationally recognized human rights standards.”
“It is important that we and other companies doing business in the Philippines remain confident in the government's commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of association and the rule of law,” the letter said.
The US business executives also called for human and labor rights groups to be allowed to “express their views and carry out their legitimate role freely and without fear of violence.”
It also urged government and manufacturing firms based here to explore partnerships with these rights groups to “help improve labor practices and working conditions in the apparel industry.”
The executives also said that “individuals working in factories that produce our goods must have the right to associate freely, join organizations of their choice and bargain collectively without unlawful interference.”
“Workers should have the opportunity to work and live in an environment free from the threat of physical violence or harm,” they said, adding that they expected “a response on the actions taken by your government to address these alleged violations, and to ensure the safety and rights of worker and labor rights promoters.”
Over the past several months, the Arroyo government has come under increasing international pressure to stop a wave of extrajudicial killings that human rights groups say has claimed the lives of more than 760 activists, journalists and other people.
During a recent visit to Europe, Arroyo was taken to account by members of the European Union and Amnesty International for her government's human rights record.
Arroyo has responded by setting up a special commission to investigate the killings and invited international human rights monitors to visit the country.
However, reports of more killings and other rights abuses continue.