Canadians take Philippines to task over rights

  • August 13, 2007

{mosimage}The president of the Philippines is getting an earful from corporations with money to invest worried about the human rights record of Filipino police.

Wal-Mart, The Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, Jones Apparel Group, Liz Claiborne Inc. and Polo Ralph Lauren are among the high profile clothing companies which have sent a letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to demand an investigation into police beating and threatening strikers. The letter was organized by the church-and-labour-sponsored Canadian organization Maquila Solidarity Network. It was sent to Macapagal-Arroyo Aug. 3 and made public Aug. 6.

“It is imperative that companies doing business in the Philippines remain confident in the government’s commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of association and the rule of law,” said the letter from mass market haberdashers.

The letter was prompted by reports of beatings and threats against strikers campaigning for a first contract with a Korean-owned factory in a tax-free export zone south of Manila.

It’s not the first time Macapagal-Arroyo will have heard from Canadians about the plight of Chong Won Factory workers in the Cavite Export Processing Zone. Some of the same apparel companies sent her a letter Nov. 7, 2006.

In July the Canadian ecumenical justice group Kairos — along with the Canadian Auto Workers, the United Steel Workers and the Maquila Solidarity Network — asked Macapagal-Arroyo to investigate June 10 and 11 attacks on Chong Won strikers. The new letter from corporate clothiers concerns the same attacks.

Chong Won factory workers have been battling for a first contract with their employer for six years. The factory owners have refused to acknowledge the union and have changed the name of the factory to C. Woo Trading.

Catholic Register attempts to contact the factory management have not been answered.

The signatories to the most recent letter to Macapagal-Arroyo include companies with no direct ties to the factory or to the Cavite Export Processing Zone, but who say they are concerned about a deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.

“We are all concerned that these alleged incidents appear to be part of a larger pattern of harassment and violence against workers, labour leaders and human rights promoters that could discourage companies from doing business with your country,” said the letter.

The companies want Philippine authorities to investigate allegations that on June 10 nine men with crowbars and knives held strikers at knifepoint while they dismantled strikers’ tents just outside the export processing zone gates. The strikers report that these men threatened them with death if they did not abandon the strike.

Then at 3:30 a.m. on June 11, the strikers report, 20 men wearing ski masks and carrying M-16 rifles arrived at the picket line and ordered strikers to lie face down. The armed men, who arrived in three vehicles and wearing army fatigues, threatened to kill the strikers one by one if they were still on strike later that morning.

National and local police refused to act on strikers’ complaint, but local police set up checkpoints later June 11 to prevent strikers from re-entering the area in front of the factory.

Eight companies, all of whom have contracts with factories in the Philippines, signed the letter. In each case the signatory is a company official responsible for the corporate code of ethics.

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