Friday, June 16, 2017

What It Is Like to Work in Ivanka Trump’s Factories in Indonesia





“The reality of working in a factory making clothes for Ivanka Trump’s label has been laid bare, with employees speaking of being paid so little they cannot live with their children, anti-union intimidation and women being offered a bonus if they don’t take time off while menstruating.

“The Guardian has spoken to more than a dozen workers at the fashion label’s factory in Subang, Indonesia, where employees describe being paid one of the lowest minimum wages in Asia and there are claims of impossibly high production targets and sporadically compensated overtime.

“The workers’ complaints come only a week after labour activists investigating possible abuses at a Chinese factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes disappeared into police custody.

“The activists’ group claimed they had uncovered a host of violations at the plant including salaries below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and ‘violations of women’s rights…’ 

“There are currently 2,759 workers at Buma, according to the regional manpower office, of which the total unionised workforce is about 200, split between two unions. 

“For the majority of non-union Buma workers, their job is a run-of-the-mill hardship to be endured. About three-quarters of them are women, many are mothers and several, like Alia, devote almost all their income to children with whom they can’t afford to live…

“The workers spoken to appear to typify the average employee making Ivanka Trump clothes in Indonesia. They are not egregiously abused but are in circumstances so far removed from the first daughter’s ‘women who work’ brand that it was impossible for them to imagine a situation where anyone would wear the dresses they were sewing. Ivanka Trump stepped down from running her brand in January, although all products still bear her name on the label.

“Women who are permanent employees at the Buma factory do get certain concessions: three months’ paid maternity leave (usually split between six weeks of pregnancy and six weeks post-birth), mandatory federal health insurance and a monthly bonus of $10.50 if they don’t take a day off for menstruation.

“These reports of the Buma factory seem largely typical of the other factories in West Java, said Andriko Otang, of Indonesia’s Trade Union Rights Centre. ‘Using unrealistic production targets to justify unpaid overtime is very common.’

“According to a photo of a timetable one worker showed the Guardian, the production targets, broken down for every half hour between 7am and 4pm, are between 58 and 92 garments per period, while the actual numbers produced are recorded as 27 to 40. ‘The management is getting smarter: they tap out our ID cards at 4pm so you can’t prove anything,’ said Wildan, a 25-year-old male worker.

“Seven workers also said they were subject to verbal abuse, being called things like ‘animals, moron and monkey.’ Otang said this, too, was fairly common. Beyond this, Buma also has a pattern of firing workers right before Ramadan and rehiring them a month later, to avoid paying a ‘religious holiday bonus,’ according to several workers. Indonesian law dictates all workers are owed a holiday bonus according to their religion, which works out to at least a month’s wages or more depending on seniority. In May 2017, there were about 290 people fired before Ramadan, according to Toto Sunarto, a leader of the SPSI union in Subang… 

Indonesia has the largest gap among Asian countries between high and low wages for unskilled garment workers, according the International Labor Organisation. None of the workers the Guardian spoke with have ever received performance-based raises, only federally mandated ones – even though some of them have worked at the factory continuously for seven years. 

“‘You have to assess minimum wages in the context of the country itself and, in that context, it’s not a living wage,’ said David Welsh, Indonesia and Malaysia director at the Solidarity Center. ‘Given the disparity in wages across Indonesia, we see a trend whereby factories are migrating increasingly to the lowest wage jurisdictions … whose terms are essentially dictated deliberately by western brands.’

“None of the not-already unionised workers who spoke to the Guardian expressed a desire to join one, citing fears of being fired and a general sense that their work wasn’t all that bad. Sita, for instance, said she ‘voluntarily’ worked overtime almost every day because they never met their targets. The buck stops with her. It’s her name that’s on the dress. Without her there is no brand.

“‘It’s not surprising to me that in a factory like this, you have rank and file workers who are unclear on what their rights are, and what the law says in terms of wages and rights,’ said Jim Keady, an American labor rights activist who has worked extensively in Indonesia. ‘But with these poverty wages — and I would call it that — just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is moral. ‘The buck stops with her,’ said Keady, of Ivanka. ‘It’s her name that’s on the dress. Without her there is no brand.’

“Carry Somers, founder of the non-profit Fashion Revolution said: ‘Ivanka Trump claims to be the ultimate destination for Women Who Work, but this clearly doesn’t extend to the women who work for her in factories around the world.’ 

“In March, Indonesia was called out by President Donald Trump for having an unfavourable trade balance with the US. The president took issue with Indonesia’s $13bn surplus last year and vowed to penalise ‘cheating foreign importers.’

“The fortunes of Ivanka’s brand have fluctuated wildly in the past year. During her father’s campaign, net sales for her brand increased by almost $18m in the year ending 31 January 2017, according to G-III data. But in recent months, several department stores have pulled her brand and G-III discreetly relabeled some Ivanka Trump merchandise under a different house brand, Adrienne Vitadini…  

“Meanwhile, the word ‘minus’ was a common refrain among Buma workers, denoting ongoing debt. ‘We can never think about leaving debt,’ said Alia. The cost of infant formula, school books, or a family visit can put these workers over the edge in any given month.

“Fadli, a young man who works in the warehouse part of the factory, sees all the brands’ price tags as they are prepared for shipment to the United States. ‘Sure I’m proud to make clothes for a well-known brand,’ he said. ‘But because I see the price tags, I have to wonder, can’t they pay us a bit more.’”

For the complete article from the Guardian, click here.



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