November 21, 2014
Apparel executives to testify on slave labour
Executives of popular apparel manufacturers Kosiuko, Cheeky and Portsaid were called to testify before the courts to answer accusations that they had exploited workers.
The move was demanded by prosecutor Andrés Madrea, chief investigator of Prosecutor’s Office No. 14, who accused business executives Aníbal Marcelo Terra and Ingrid Georgina Kern Dornfeld (Kosiuko); Daniel Awada and Patricia Norma Fraccione (Cheeky and Como Quieres que te Quiera); and Sergio Jaime Said and Victoria Papu De Said (Portsaid) of employing slave labour through subcontracted sweatshops.
Daniel Awada is the brother of Juliana Awada, wife of Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri.
Employees at the subcontracted textile factories — most of whom are Bolivian — were reportedly forced to work for more than 14 hours a day in miserable conditions. According to the testimonies gathered, there were also children working at the denounced textile factory in the City neighbourhood of Mataderos.
“This was one of the few cases in which we were able to prove that there was effective communication between production managers of these trademarks and the owner of the sweatshop,” Madrea told the Herald.
Federal law enforcement officers carried out a raid at a sewing workshop on Pola street in Mataderos where they “discovered” 15 employees on October 3, 2011. Seven of them were undocumented immigrants.
Rocy Mari López Cisneros and Marco Antonio Cáceres Flores identified themselves as the business owners and acknowledged they held regular talks with representatives from the trademarks.
Original tags and messages regarding patterns for clothes were also found during the raids, Madrea said.
“People from these trademarks even visited the sewing workshop, so there is no debate over whether they knew or not under what conditions these clothes were made,” the prosecutor added.
They paid as little as three pesos for each piece of clothing.
Earlier this week, Portsaid published a post in its Facebook page saying that “the sewing shop was granted a licence to operate and complied with all applicable regulations.”
Workers were brought into the country with the promise of a better future — but they ended up earning a little more than 100 pesos a day for between 15 to 16 hours of work, Madrea said.
According to news portal Fiscales.gob.ar, employees said their work consisted in cutting the fabric, blunting the threads and ironing the clothes.
One of them said he was never required to present any documentation — that he was given the job on a verbal agreement.
Beds were found in the sewing workshop. Business owners ran a “warm bed system” — meaning that employees worked in shifts so that there was constantly someone working and someone sleeping, the prosecutor told the Herald.
There was only one toilet for all of the staff.
“We could not leave the place, Marcos (Antonio Cáceres Flores) forbade us from doing so. The only ones allowed to leave the building — and on few occasions — were those who had the (national identity) document. Those who didn’t, were not allowed to go out,” one of the victims said.
Kosiuko, Cheeky and Portsaid executives are expected to give their testimony next month, when Judge María Fontbona de Pombo will define their legal status.
Kosiuko and Portsaid remain as two of the most popular fashion brands in Argentina.
Kids fashion store Cheeky has recently unveiled its Autumn-Winter collection for 2014, which includes trousers at 369 pesos and sweaters at 392 pesos.