Nike Code of Conduct: 'Just do it' - or you're fired?

This is an excerpt of a statement given last week by Julia Esmeralda Pleites, who worked in an El Salvador textile factory sewing Nike shirts. She was brought to Washington for a news conference by the National Labor Committee, a New York group that advocates worker rights. Nike's Code of Conduct calls for contractors to adhere to its principles of fair labor.

I worked in the Formosa Textiles factory in the San Bartolo Free Trade Zone in El Salvador until I was fired last month because I missed work when I had no money for the bus to work.

In the factory, we made Nike, Adidas, and a USA soccer shirt. My job was to sew both seams on 160 shirts every two hours. On the Nike shirt, I worked attaching the lining to the collar front. We entered the factory at 6:55 in the morning, and we worked supposedly until 5 p.m. But almost every day we had to stay until 6:30 or 7 p.m. They didn't let us out until we completed the production goal. Nor did they pay us for the time we worked after 5 p.m. You had to stay because they took away your your ID card so you couldn't punch out. If you left, you would lose the entire day's pay.

Sometimes we have to work on Saturday, but they don't pay us overtime. This happens before holidays or vacations. They make us make up the vacation time.

The factory is very hot. You are constantly sweating. The ventilation is poor. You can't bring clean drinking water into the factory. They don't allow you to talk. You need permission to drink water and go to the bathroom. Almost never can you use the bathroom more than twice a day.

We sit on hard wooden benches without backs. It is not permitted to have a cushion to sit on.

Leaving the factory is humiliating, because they search you physically. They make the men drop their pants.

You have to pay for a pregnancy test when you enter and at the end of your trial period. If you are pregnant, they fire you immediately.

We are paid 42 colones a day, which is the minimum wage - I'm told that is $4.80 a day. During your trial period, they pay you only 50 percent of the minimum wage. We get 20 colones incentive pay if we reach the daily production goal. But you can only do that by working one or two or three extra hours without pay. The supervisors, who are from Bangladesh, scream at you to go faster. At times, they have thrown garments in the face of compaeras.

We pay for social security benefits, but they don't give us permission to go to the health clinic. If you go to the clinic, you lose one or two days' pay. They never give permission to be absent, no matter what the crisis.

On Friday, Oct. 9, I was fired. I had missed work the previous Tuesday since I had no money for the bus to work. My daughter didn't feel well. So I decided to stay home. When I went to work the next day, they suspended me without pay and sent me home. On Thursday, they would not let me work either, and the chief of production grabbed my shoulders and shook me violently. They fired me on Friday. They only gave me half the severance pay they legally owed me.

At Formosa, the minute they find out you belong to a union, they would fire you.

None of us ever heard of the Nike Code of Conduct, which I am told exists. I am told that companies like Nike say we are treated well and that our rights are respected. That is not true. When I saw the price of a Nike shirt, $75, which would be more than 650 colones in El Salvador, I couldn't believe it.

We need help.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.