For years, clothing manufacturer American Apparel has prided itself on producing “fair trade” products made entirely in the United States. It’s “Sweatshop Free” and “Made in USA” branding has transformed the company into a staple of hipster fashion.
But for the first time in American Apparel’s history, the company has begun producing shirts in Honduras and to a lesser degree in neighboring Nicaragua, the New York Post reports.
Gildan Activewear, the clothing manufacturing company that purchased American Apparel following its Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year, said shirt labels will begin saying “Made in Honduras” and “Made in Nicaragua” by this summer, the New York Post also reports.
The Canada-based manufacturer has frequently been accused of running sweatshops in Global South countries, including Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh.
In 2002, for example, Gildan Activewear fired close to 45 employees at its plant in the Honduran city of El Progreso after workers there began organizing a union, The Globe and Mail reports. The manufacturer refused to reinstate them, even though the workers were willing to negotiate better pay and working conditions.
Working alongside Honduras’ right-wing government, Gildan Activewear has set up production factories in “free trade zones” created in the Central American country after a 2009 military coup. The minimum wage in these “free trade zones” is about US$283 per month, or about US$1.18 an hour.
A monthly living wage in Honduras, enough to support a family of four, is about US$683 a month, according to the Worker Rights Consortium.
And in 2011, Haitian trade union Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman filed charges against the company, claiming workers received extremely low wages and were forced to work in deplorable conditions.
Surveys conducted in 2013 by the union also revealed that none of Gildan Activewear Haitian factories were paying their workers the country’s minimum wage of US$4.92 per day.
“They are being cheated out of an average of seven weeks’ pay per year,” the Worker Rights Consortium said in a 2013 report detailing conditions at the Haitian sweatshop.
“They are ill-fed, indebted and without access to medical care.”