That’s not right, that’s not fair, and we are going to do something about it.”
Sofia Sazo, a former employee of the factory, which is called Shin Won, charged that the managers paid wages that were insufficient to lift its employees above the poverty level, denied workers the right to organize and were physically abusive to workers.
“Many of the supervisors are accustomed to being inhumane,” she said through an interpreter. “They go so far as to hit us when we don’t understand what they’re saying, because they don’t understand our language…they hit us in the face.”
As is the case with many Guatemalan apparel plants, Shin Won is owned and operated by Korean investors.
A spokesman for San Francisco-based Gap Inc. countered in a phone interview that Sazo’s information was out of date.
“Sofia Sazo actually worked at the facility from 1998 to June of 2000. She voluntarily left, before we began working with an independent monitoring association,” he said. “We feel the factory was really cooperative with us.”
He said that monitoring group, Coverco, found only minor violations of Gap’s vendor code of conduct in its review and that those violations have been fixed.
Still, the wage discrepancy between Guatemala — where UNITE said the minimum wage in the apparel sector is about $3.60 a day, well below that country’s poverty line — and the U.S. frustrated many participants at the rally. A contingent of Asian and Hispanic sewing-room workers wearing UNITE caps joined the rally.
John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said: “We want to put an end to poverty wages.”
The protesters across the street from the Gap, who occupied two city blocks that also feature a Gucci store and a Fortunoff location, appeared largely peaceful. Before the rally began, they listened to a latin-jazz trio and were entertained by a display of giant dancing puppets representing various players in the struggle for global justice, including workers and Gap management.
Raynor made a point of saying that he didn’t want to see violence at the event.
“These policemen here today are our union brothers and sisters,” he said. “We mean no trouble to them.”
An NYPD spokesman said only seven people were arrested for WEF-related acts, a group of two men and another of five women, who had tried to hang banners for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP from an overpass over the FDR Drive and the roof of a building in Lower Manhattan, respectively.
Across Park Avenue from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the meeting was being held, a group of members of the Falun Gong movement held a demonstration against Chinese repression. Wearing matching yellow scarves, they practiced tai chi and chanted.
Qui Nan Nan, a member of the group, pointed out that China has made the movement illegal and arrested its members for their peaceful actions.
Organizers of the forum and city authorities are taking great steps to protect the estimated 2,700 world leaders attending the event. Long stretches of Lexington and Park Avenues in midtown are closed to traffic and pedestrians and sanitation dump trucks filled with sand for extra weight have been parked in key intersections around the hotel to prevent anyone from smashing through in a vehicle. The meeting runs through Monday.