In hindsight the words sound eerie.
In February we were in Nicaragua on a rare tour of a Maquila factory that manufactures Levis Dockers pants for the U.S. and Argentina. These factories are usually reluctant to let foreigners in, but this one had a better record than most. It had a good relationship with both its union and an activist women’s group operating within the plant.
Wages at this factory are very low by international standards, but higher than others in Managua’s Maquila zones. The manager of the factory told us that some in the U.S. thought he was doing a good thing by raising his more than 3,000 workers out of poverty. He said they were wrong – his plant wasn’t taking workers out of poverty, only from “misery to poverty.” He said at $45 a week, nobody was getting out of poverty.
Unlike many foreign-owned plants in Nicaragua, this plant had invested in training for its workers and owned its equipment. Many companies simply lease their equipment and building, leaving at a moment’s notice without paying their bills, including worker wages.
The problem with a global economy is there are no real rules for the treatment of workers, only international agreements that give corporations extraordinary rights over sovereign governments.
The Nicaraguan plant manager told us that the wages he paid meant they were losing contracts elsewhere. He specifically said he lost one major contract to Bangladesh were the workers are making a third of the poverty wages he pays his Nicaraguan labourers.