Report from WRC and PSU Workers’ Rights Center: Salvadoran Factory Owners Colluding with Corrupt Labor Federation and Violent Gangs

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date: January 22, 2015
Re:Report from WRC and PSU Workers’ Rights Center: Salvadoran Factory Owners Colluding with Corrupt Labor Federation and Violent Gangs

Dear Colleagues,

Today, the WRC is releasing a new report, Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights,that documents a pattern of violations of freedom of association by employers in the garment industry in El Salvador. The report was researched and prepared jointly by the WRC and the Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR) at Pennsylvania State University.

El Salvador has and continues to be a significant location for the production of university and college licensed apparel. Currently, 30 companies have disclosed the production of university licensed apparel at 28 different Salvadoran garment factories.  

The report documents a disturbing pattern trend of employer collusion with illegitimate, corrupt and even violent private entities to repress workers’ exercise of associational rights. Based on first hand testimony from garment workers and local labor experts, along with news coverage and other sources, the WRC and CGWR details the experiences of workers at a range of factories who were fired or, in some cases, physically intimidated, in retaliation for their efforts to organize independent unions. In many of these cases discussed in the report, employers created “company” unions or colluded with the a notoriously corrupt Salvadoran union federation known as Fenastras to  restrict workers’ exercise of associational rights. In other cases, employers appear to have enlisted members of the violent street gangs that plague Salvadoran society to physically intimidate and threaten workers attempting to form independent unions. 
One of those gangs told a worker, “I told you to stop your protests and now it’s your time; we are going to kill you.”

As the report discusses, these forms of interference in workers’ exercise of freedom of association, which violate Salvadoran law, international labor standards, and university and buyer codes of conduct, are a significant obstacle to achieving respect by factory owners for fundamental worker rights. In addition to constituting violations of these standards in themselves, the patterns of intimidation and retaliation described in this report deter workers from pressing their employers to rectify other violations, such as safety violations or forced overtime, and even from speaking openly to labor rights monitors, such as the WRC, about conditions in their workplaces.

The report provides recommendations for all stakeholders — employers in the garment sector, companies that purchase apparel from Salvadoran garment factories including licensees, and the Salvadoran government. The WRC has shared this report with all licensees that disclose collegiate apparel production in El Salvador. We will continue to update universities as to licensees’ responses to this report and these issues, and to investigate any reported use of these practices by Salvadoran garment factories producing for university licensees.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about the report’s findings and recommendations.



Scott Nova 
Worker Rights Consortium 
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor
Washington, DC 20005 
ph 202 387 4884 
fax 202 387 3292 
[email protected]