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3 Jan 2023

Jasmin Malik Chua, Sourcing Journal

Guatemala: Workers laid off from Target supplier owed $58,000 in unpaid wages & severance

"Guatemalan Target Supplier’s Laid-Off Workers Still Waiting for Severance", 3 January 2023

Mirna Barrientos is tired of waiting.

It’s been nearly two years since Barrientos was fired from the packing department of JNB Global, a factory in Guatemala that makes clothing for Target in the United States...

In November 2020...JNB Global...demanded that all its employees sign new contracts that would reset the clocks on their employment, meaning they would no longer qualify for benefits such as days of vacation based on their length of service. For Barrientos, those six years would no longer count. Instead, she would be treated as if she was a new hire. If she were laid off, she would receive less severance than she was entitled to.

“I imagine it was because they didn’t want to pay us our accumulated severance for the number of years that we had been working at the factory,” she told Sourcing Journal through a translator. The factory’s management didn’t provide any explanation...JNB Global also did not respond to a request for comment.

Most of the employees signed the falsified contracts under duress. The factory had threatened to fire everyone without severance if they didn’t do so, she said. But eight refused to cave, including Barrientos.

A few months later, she and the other seven workers were let go without severance—or just cause. This is illegal under Guatemalan law...

When the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) took up the case on behalf of seven of the workers, it estimated that JNB Global owed them a collective $62,000. Barrientos herself filed a complaint with Guatemala’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, which calculated that she was owed $3,248...

But the process proved to be a drawn-out one and Barrientos found herself making trips from one hearing to another...Finally JNB Global agreed to pay her less than half of that—$1,427—over a period of five months...Altogether, the workers received less than $4,000, broken up into tiny installments...

For more than a year, they have written letters and sent emails [to Target], yet “they haven’t fixed the problem,” she said. When the WRC approached [Target] with the results of its investigation, Target told the organization that it had conducted its own audit, only to find that JNB Global had fully remedied any violations it was guilty of. Target did not respond to emails seeking comment...

Barrientos has only one request of Target: pay what she and her former colleagues’ are owed—no more, no less. The retailer’s sales grew 3.4 percent year over year to reach $26.5 billion in the third quarter of fiscal year 2022. All she wants is “what is fair.”

“What we are asking Target is just to pay the rest of our severance because we’ve been fighting for this for a long time and we haven’t been paid,” she said. “The problem is still unresolved.”