Will Levi's Practice What They Preach?

Coalition for Justice on the frontline for Lajat Manufacturing


On Thursday February 16 at noon the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras lead a demonstration in front of Levi Strauss and Company’s headquarters at 1155 Battery Street. Speakers included Fernando Lopez representing the Lajat Workers in Gomez Palacio Durango, Tim Paulson, Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council, Alejandra Domenzain of Sweatshop Watch, Chie Abad of Global Exchange, David Bacon, Bay Area journalist, and CJM Board member Judy Ancel. Levi Strauss is a major customer of Lajat Manufacturing, a consistent labor rights abuser in Mexico.

In an unprecedented ruling on January 17, a Mexican Federal Labor Tribunal ordered the local Labor Board of Gomez Palacio to recognize the independent and democratic Union of Workers of Lajat Manufacturing. Lajat is a major jeans-maker with nearly 12,000 employees operating in the states of Durango and Coahuila.

The Lajat Workers Union is the first independent union to gain legal recognition in north central Mexico. All but one member of its executive committee are women workers. The Tribunal’s decision was in direct conflict with the actions of the Durango state and local authorities and of Lajat Manufacturing, which has waged a year-long battle to stop its workers from organizing. Lajat has gone so far as to close a plant in order to prevent workers from realizing their human rights. It has fired and blacklisted workers, and it has unleashed dozens of police on workers inside its plant to beat and arrest them. From the start Lajat has pressured the local labor board and the Governor who has authority over it, but finally on Friday February 10, after delaying as long as it could, the labor board complied with the Tribunal’s decision.

Levi Strauss proudly claims to be “the first worldwide company to establish a comprehensive ethical code of conduct for manufacturing and finishing contractors working with the company.” Since April 2005 the Lajat workers, through The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, have been asking Levi Strauss that Lajat be accountable and respect their ethical code. Levi Strauss has agreed that Lajat has violated their code; they have urged Lajat to reinstate fired workers, and after meeting with CJM, they issued a Corrective Action Plan for Management. However, after Lajat closed its Gomez Palacio plant late last year, Levi Strauss said, “We can’t tell them how to run their business.”

Then, early this year, workers reported that Levi Strauss gave Lajat new orders for jeans. This was despite the fact that Lajat refuses to comply with Levi’s Corrective Action Plan, refuses either to reinstate workers or to pay the workers $400,000 in back wages, unpaid overtime, and severance pay, and it fails to make legally required contributions to federal social security and housing funds.

Martha Ojeda, Executive Director of The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras thinks Levi Strauss should practice what it preaches and quit pampering Lajat. “They can’t have their ethical code and sweatshops too. We call on Levi Strauss to become a leader for labor rights in Mexico and help these workers become the first since NAFTA to win justice on the job.”

The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras is a U.S.-Canadian-Mexican coalition of religious, environmental, labor, Latino and women’s organizations. Our efforts are grounded in supporting worker and community struggles for social, economic and environmental justice in the maquiladora industry.

At the demonstration CJM displayed a solidarity banner signed by dozens of students from United Students Against Sweatshops who held their national convention last week in San Francisco. The demonstration was organized by CJM, along with its affiliates: Marin Interfaith Task Force, Sweatshop Watch, and Global Exchange. Co-sponsors are The San Francisco Labor Council, The International Solidarity Commission of the Industrial Workers of the World, SF/LCLAA, Campaign for Labor Rights, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Asian Law Caucus.

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