Honduras: US-Korean maquila accused of CAFTA labor violations

Some 30 inspectors from the Honduran Labor Ministry visited the Kyungshin-Lear Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems auto parts assembly plant in a suburb of the northern city of San Pedro Sula on Aug. 13 after local media reported that some employees had to wear diapers at work because of restrictions on their bathroom breaks. Workers for the company, an affiliate of the Michigan-based Lear Corporation and Korea’s Kyungshin Corp, say there are many other labor violations, such as forcing pregnant women to stand while doing assembly work. According to an Aug. 12 press release from the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, management has fired 26 workers so far this year for trying to form a union at the maquildora (assembly plant with tax exemptions producing for export).

Selvin Martínez, the Labor Ministry’s chief of inspection, claimed inspectors had tried to enter the factory five times in the past year and had fined the company 5,000 lempiras (about US$245) on each occasion for denying them entry. But the government’s renewed interest in the plant seemed to be largely because of the publicity from a visit by US labor leaders, organized in cooperation with the Honduran office of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and the General Workers Central (CGT), the most conservative of Honduras’ main labor federations. The delegation was led by Charles Kernaghan, the director of the Pittsburgh-based Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (formerly the National Labor Committee) and a well-known anti-sweatshop activist for some 30 years. The AFL-CIO has been applying pressure on the Honduran government through labor standards set up in the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Theoretically, Honduras could lose trade preferences with the US if it doesn’t enforce the labor agreements, although there is no evidence that the administration of US president Barack Obama has been pushing the Honduran government on the issue.

A spokesperson for Kyungshin-Lear at the company’s Alabama sales office denied the unionists’ allegations. Daniel Facussé, president of the Honduras Maquiladora Association, called the charges “a falsehood and a slander set up by workers manipulated through the interference of the US unions, which want to recover the jobs that they lost in their country.” (AFL-CIO blog, Aug. 12; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 13, from AP; ABC News, Aug. 14) Facussé is a member of a powerful Honduran business family that includes former president Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (1998-2002), who owns the Tegucigalpa daily La Tribuna, and cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, whose security guards have been repeatedly accused of killing campesinos in a land dispute in the northern Aguán Valley region.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 18.