Cablegate: Argentina: Forced and Child Labor in Garment Industry


DE RUEHBU #0786/01 1582014
R 062014Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (a) SECSTATE 41381 (b) BUENOS AIRES 344
(c) BUENOS AIRES 519 (d) Gomez-McCarter 5/20/08 E-mail

1. (SBU) Summary: Based on interviews with GOA officials,
International Labor Organization representatives, and union and NGO
leaders, as well as a review of media articles, some companies in
Argentina's apparel industry appear to use forced and child labor in
their production chain. It is difficult to ascertain the extent of
the problem, as reliable statistics do not exist. Estimates
provided by government officials and NGOS may be inflated, because
they do not/not clearly distinguish between voluntary sweatshop
labor, long work hours in family-run businesses, and exploitative
labor as defined by cable guidance (ref A). The public, private,
and NGO sectors work together to investigate and prosecute companies
that are accused of using forced and child labor. The government
has conducted a number of public awareness campaigns and has
organized training for labor inspectors. There have been a number
of isolated reports of forced and/or child labor in small scale
cultivation of the following goods: sugar, cotton, tobacco, poultry,
tomatoes, strawberries, flowers, sugar, grapes, and lemons. Post
has limited data on the extent of the problem but believes it merits
further research. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Good: Apparel

Type of exploitation

According to our sources listed below, some companies in Argentina's
apparel industry appear to use forced and child labor in their
production chain. This includes debt bondage, physical restraint,
threats to personal and family safety, labor offered under false
pretenses, the confiscation of worker identity documents, and legal
action (i.e., jail or deportation for illegal entry) against
undocumented workers. Child labor also exists, as children may work
alongside parents in clandestine shops. See refs B and C for more
details on labor exploitation in Argentina.

Sources of information and Years

In recent weeks, Post interviewed GOA officials at the Ministry of
Labor (MOL), Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and the National Commission
Against Child Labor (CONAETI). Post also met with the Buenos Aires
City Ombudsman's Office, as well as representatives from the
International Labor Organization (ILO), and leaders of the Garment
Workers Union and a local NGO, the Alameda Foundation Against Slave
Labor. Secondary source research included articles from 2006 - 2008
in leading dailies La Nacion, Clarin, and Pagina 12, and the
websites and reports of the MOL, CONAETI, ILO, and UNICEF. Per
instructions (ref A) a list of websites will be e-mailed to the
Department of Labor separately.

The Alameda Foundation is a local NGO formed in December 2007. The
organization is headed by Gustavo Vera and Nestor Escudero, both of
whom have a history of active involvement in the fight against slave
labor in the textile sector. Vera also heads the Sewing Workers
Union. The foundation provides legal advice to workers of
sweatshops, denounces cases related to slave labor in the garment
sector, and informs the public of exploitation cases. The Alameda
Foundation and its members work closely with officials from the city
of Buenos Aires and local prosecutors to bring to justice textile
factory owners accused of exploitation, as well as the owners of
clothing brands that outsource production of their goods to these


Most garments produced in-country are sold domestically as both
generic and branded goods, yet some of these goods have an
international reach. According to a January 2007 U.S. Foreign
Commercial Service Report on the Argentine apparel sector, local
apparel sales to foreign tourists reached US$ 110 million in 2006,
reflecting a year-on-year increase of 40 percent over 2005. Apparel
exports increased 59 percent in 2003 to USD 47 million, reaching
markets in Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Central America. Some
Argentine brand names have opened stores overseas, including Cheeky,
which manufactures children's clothes and has a storefront in North
Carolina. Both the Buenos Aires National Ombudsman's Office and the
Alameda Foundation publicly denounce Cheeky for exploitative labor
practices, but neither this company nor any other has been found
guilty of such practices in an Argentine court of law.

According to the Alameda Foundation and an MOL official, Bolivian
immigrants, usually in country illegally, represent the majority of
forced labor victims. However there are also instances of
Paraguayan, Peruvian, and Korean victims. (Post tried repeatedly to
meet with counterparts at the Bolivian Embassy to discuss this issue
without success.) The Foundation and media report that victims are
lured by radio and print ads in their home countries that promise
jobs in Argentina with eight- or nine-hour work days and a living
wage. When victims inquire in Bolivia about the jobs in Argentina,
local representatives help arrange their travel across Argentina's
long and porous borders. Upon arrival, victims, often with their
entire families, are forced to work 12-18 hour days, six days a week
at below subsistence wages with little or no food, rest, or
vacation. Workspaces may double as housing.

News articles and the Buenos Aires Ombudsman's Office repeat
Alameda's claims. These same sources state that some owners may
withhold pay due to "debts" incurred by the recruiter in
transporting the workers. The structure of the garment industry,
where larger companies often outsource production to small-scale,
unregistered shops on short-term contracts, is a factor in the
propagation of forced labor. All operate under a lax regulatory
environment with limited enforcement of labor standards, especially
outside the federal capital.

Cases of forced labor appear periodically in leading dailies. One
well-known case occurred on March 29, 2006, when a sweatshop in the
Caballito neighborhood of Buenos Aires city caught fire, killing six
Bolivian immigrants, a man, a woman, and four children ages two to
fifteen. The incident led to a wave of investigations throughout
the city which closed many sweatshops and brought national attention
to forced labor practices and illegal sweatshops.

More recently, on March 4, 2008, leading daily Clarin reported that
police raided a garment sweatshop in the municipality of Florencio
Varela in Buenos Aires Province after receiving a complaint from a
worker who escaped and reported abuses to law enforcement officials.
The police found seven Bolivian workers, including minors, living
under slave-like conditions, unable to leave the premises where they
operated sewing machines and looms. The police arrested the factory
owner, who had confiscated the victims' identity documents. On
April 4, 2008, Pagina 12 reported that police raided another
sweatshop in Buenos Aires Province, finding fifteen undocumented
Bolivians living in similar conditions. On May 30, 2008, a contact
at the 5th Federal Court confirmed Alameda Foundation's claim that
oral arguments will soon begin in an exploitative labor case against
major local brands Montagne, Lacar, Rasti, and Cheeky.


Post notes that incidence statistics enumerated below do not clearly
distinguish between voluntary sweatshop labor, long work hours in
family-run businesses, and exploitative labor as defined by cable
guidance (ref A).

A representative of the Buenos Aires City Ombudsman's Office told
poloff that they estimate that approximately 25,000 garment workers
toil under slave-like conditions in the city. He stated that the
city government successfully closed about 300 sweatshops, while
another 500 moved outside the city to avoid inspections, but remain
in Buenos Aires Province. The City Ombusdsman's Office has
identified 71 brands believed to manufacture garments in sweatshops.
The Alameda Foundation has publicly denounced 85 brands and has
filed approximately 100 legal complaints alleging forced and/or
child labor. Its president, Gustavo Vera, is quoted in the press
suggesting some slightly higher estimates of sweatshop activity,
claiming that "between 700 - 900 were closed, another thousand moved
to the province of Buenos Aires, and 3,000 remain in the city."
According to press reports, federal and local governments closed
down 712 sweatshops in the city of Buenos Aires over the
eighteen-month period January 2006 - June 2007. A senior Ministry
of Labor official told poloff that 60% of the informal workforce in
the apparel industry is Bolivian. A 2004 MOJ/INDEC/ILO survey of
Argentina found that of 456,207 children between the ages of five
and seventeen working in a manner that interfered with school
attendance, 27.9% of five to thirteen year olds and 36.8% of
fourteen to seventeen year olds worked in some type of business,
garment shop, or farm. Apparel-specific data is not provided.

Efforts to Reduce Exploitative Labor

The GOA's MOL is responsible for conducting labor inspections to
ensure that companies register their workers and pay social security
and other benefits proscribed by law. While it is responsible for
conducting child labor inspections throughout th country, it
delegates the responsibility of safety inspections to the provinces
and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires. If forced or child labor
is detected or suspected in the course of a routine inspection by
the GOA MOL, it reports this to the relevant provincial authorities
for further action. The MOL has signed an agreement with the
Ministry of Education whereby child laborers identified in MOL
inspections will be given a scholarship to enable them to attend
school until 18 years of age. In addition, if the child's parents
are unemployed, they will receive financial aid, labor training, and
job referral assistance for two years. The Ministry of the Interior
in April 2006 instituted the "Patria Grande" program, which
regularizes illegal immigrants born in MERCOSUR or associate
countries. According to a source at Argentina's National Migration
Office, the Program has helped fight forced labor. Once immigrants
receive citizenship documents they may apply for legal work and are
unlikely to return to illegal, potentially exploitative jobs

The Buenos Aires City government, notably the City Ombudsman's
Office, the Under Secretary of Labor, and the Under Secretary of
Human Rights, have led the city government's efforts to combat
forced and child labor in the apparel industry. They work
cooperatively with the ILO and the Alameda Foundation to call for
and/or lead investigations into alleged sweatshops, and publicly
denounce numerous brand names. However, no case involving a major
brand name has been successfully tried in Argentine courts.

In 2007, the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI),
under the Ministry of the Economy, launched its voluntary
certification program for clothing companies as a result of the
public outcry triggered by the March 2006 sweatshop fire in
Caballito. To combat forced labor in the apparel industry, INTI
offers certificates of quality to clothing companies, including
factories and suppliers along the entire production chain.
Interested firms undergo a series of inspections and audits by INTI
to gain certification. The applicant company must show that it
provides its employees with decent, safe, environmentally-friendly
working conditions free of violence, discrimination, and
forced/child labor. As an incentive, INTI signed an agreement in
2007 with the Ministry of Defense and the Buenos Aires Provincial
Education Ministry, whereby the Ministries would favor certified
companies in their purchases.

National and provincial governments work with the ILO, UNICEF, and
other international organizations to build capacity and
institutionalize norms related to forced and child labor across
production of all goods in Argentina. The National Committee for
the Elimination of Child Labor (CONAETI) conducts research on the
issue, develops national programs and policies aimed at combating
child labor, organizes training workshops with provincial labor
inspectors, and coordinates policy with Provincial Committees for
the Elimination of Child Labor (COPRETIs). Many of its programs
have been developed with outside assistance from the ILO and UNICEF.
It has conducted several public awareness campaigns in schools
throughout the country, including a national campaign entitled "No
to Child Labor" co-sponsored with the Ministry of Education.

Private companies also support the fight against forced labor. For
example, Spanish Telecommunications company Telefonica created the
Telefonica Foundation, whose Pronino program invests in educational
opportunities for "at-risk children." In 2007, the program
benefited 52,991 children, up 108 percent from the year before. In
addition, the civic organization Conciencia, funded in part by
private companies, none of which are garment manufacturers,
contributes money to a few child labor prevention programs in
Argentina, including Pronino.

Goods that Merit Further Research

3. (SBU) Based on Post interviews with the aforementioned
organizations, the Argentina Rural Workers Union (UATRE) and media
reports, there have been a number of isolated reports of forced
and/or child labor in small scale cultivation of the following
goods: sugar, cotton, tobacco, poultry, tomatoes, strawberries,
flowers, sugar, grapes, and lemons. Post has limited data on the
extent of the problem, but believes it merits further research. A
2004 MOJ/INDEC/ILO survey of Argentina found that of 456,207
children between the ages of five and seventeen working in a manner
that interfered with school attendance, 27.9% of five to thirteen
year olds and 36.8% of fourteen to seventeen year olds worked in
some type of business, garment shop, or farm. Farm-specific data is
not provided. The study also showed that in rural areas, where
cultivation of the goods above occurs, 78.5% of five to thirteen
year olds and 38.1% of fourteen to seventeen year olds are working
for their parents or other relatives. UATRE Secretary General
Venegas agrees that many children work on family farms out of
necessity. However, he agrees that this should not interfere with
school, and must take into consideration the dangers associated with
childrens' exposure to pesticides.

In November of 2006 tobacco growers, together with CONAETI and the
ILO, launched the "Porvenir" program in Misiones Province to
promotes and ensure school attendance by children of tobacco
UATRE Secretary General Geronimo Venegas noted in an interview with
Post that his labor union has a history of fighting exploitative
labor practices through worker documentation initiatives. In 2002,
the union successfully implemented a country-wide program to provide
agricultural laborers with worker log books, which is mandatory for
work. Only legal, documented workers could receive a log book. The
log book is not issued to illegal immigrants, undocumented workers,
or children.


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