The Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador (IMGES) monitors progress on the agreements signed by The Gap on March 22, 1996, to reestablish healthy labor relations at Mandarin International, and to oversee compliance with applicable labor laws and The Gap’s code of conduct.
The December 1995 agreement by the US apparel retailer, The Gap, to accept independent monitoring of its code of conduct at the Mandarin International maquila factory in El Salvador, has been heralded as a precedent-setting victory and model for how corporate codes of conduct can be made effective. The agreement was achieved after an intensive public campaign in the US, Canada and El Salvador. The agreement between The Gap and Salvadoran contractor, Mandarin International, allowed independent, local human rights groups to monitor working conditions and labor rights violations at Mandarin International, a major North American retailer’s contract factory. The Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador (IMGES) resulted from one of the resolutions established to solve the labor-related problems at Mandarin International.
IMGES has taken several steps to ensure adherence with the March 22 agreement and prevent future abuse including:
- bilateral meetings with the management of Mandarin International to discuss acquiescence with the agreement and solutions to detected problems
- meetings with the leaders of the Association of Mandarin International Workers (ATEMISA) and former leaders of the Mandarin International Workers Union (SETMI)
- meetings and assemblies with Mandarin personnel
- field visits to monitor working conditions
- conference calls with the Independent Monitoring Group and with representatives from The Gap
- responses and follow-up to complaints about conditions at Mandarin International
The monitoring group has regular access to the workers both inside and outside the factory. More importantly, they have the trust of the workers and have won the trust of the factory management. IMGES also claims to have been instrumental in facilitating the return to work of several fired union executive members and 75 fired union supporters. It admitted to going beyond its monitoring role to act as a conciliator between the workers and management.
When asked what monitoring has been unable to accomplish, Mark Anner, a former member of the monitoring group representing CENTRA stated: 'independent monitoring has not been able to touch, in this one factory, the logic of how the industry works or the intensity of the work which is linked to the production goals. Local factories producing under contract for big US retailers like The Gap or Eddie Bauer have set deadlines they have to meet to fulfill their orders. Profit margins are very low. For the maquiladora owners to survive under this system, they try to keep the pace of production up. They keep a small workforce and demand a lot of overtime when orders are heavy.'
Anner also admitted: 'we can only achieve so much in one isolated factory. The next great challenge is to see to it that all the companies are feeling the same pressure to improve conditions.' The monitoring groups hope to be able to expand their right to monitor conditions in other El Salvadoran factories as well.
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