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Sweatshop labour lawsuit (re Bolivian migrant workers in Argentina)

In 2005 The Public Advocate in Buenos Aires brought a criminal lawsuit regarding the dire situation of Bolivian migrant workers in Buenos Aires textile workshops, against members of Argentina's Federal Police, the workshop owners, and brand owners alleging complicity and the involvement in the running of illegal workshops, breaching national laws, and using slave labour. The case is ongoing. 

 

Para la versión en español de este perfil de las demandas judiciales, haga clic acá.

In 2005 the Fundación Liga Argentina por los Derechos Humanos (Argentine Human Rights League Foundation) (FLADH) filed complaints and testimony with the Office of the Public Advocate in Buenos Aires regarding the dire situation of Bolivian migrant workers at the Buenos Aires textile workshops.  In October 2005 the Buenos Aires Public Advocate brought criminal lawsuits against members of Argentina’s Federal Police, the workshop owners and the brand owners alleging complicity and involvement in the running of illegal workshops, breaching national laws (work, residence and migration) and using slave labour. 

At the court of first instance, the judge declined to admit anonymous declarations that had been taken from some of the victims.  The Public Advocate and FLADH appealed to Court 1 of the Federal Appeals Chamber, which ordered the trial judge to conduct a full investigation of the illegal textile workshop system in Buenos Aires.  The case continued against the textile workshop owners, but the trial judge failed to conduct an investigation of the owners of the clothing brands supplied by the illegal textile workshops.  The Federal Appeals Chamber ordered the trial judge to investigate these brand owners. 

In 2007, the City Government of Buenos Aires conducted its own inquiries and dismantled several workshops.  As a result of the city’s inquiries, the initial lawsuit was expanded.  Charges were brought against the owners of more than 80 clothing brands.  On 8 April 2007, Judge Norberto Oyarbide found the owners of Gilmar S.A. guilty of enslaving its workers and violating work, residence and migration laws.  However, the judge ordered the acquittal of the Gilmar owners.  He argued that, on a cultural basis, the defendants should not be held liable.  This “cultural” argument had been used successfully in another case, where the court held that there was no exploitation of the illegal Bolivian migrants working in the textile workshops because this “human group” originating from the Bolivian altiplano works like a cooperative.  The court stated that due to their customs and norms of behaviour they live together like an “ayllu” or extended family and expenses and earnings are shared among community members. 

This decision has been strongly criticised by the Argentinean College of Graduates in Anthropology, amongst others.  In June 2008 former garment workers and the FLADH appealed on the basis that the brand owners benefited economically from the workers’ irregular situation and that slavery cannot be justified by using cultural or anthropological arguments.  This appeal has received support from the Buenos Aires Legislature.  On the 11 of September 2008, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision in this case ruling that the acquittal of the Gilmar owners lacks merit and that further investigation is required. 

- [ES] Revocan sobreseimiento en causa por reducción a servidumbre, Télam, 23 setiembre 2008 
- [PDF] Slavery and Textile Production in Argentina, Rodolfo Yanzón [plaintiffs’ counsel], July 2008 
- [PDF] Esclavismo en la producción textil en la Argentina, Rodolfo Yanzón [abogado por la parte querellante], julio 2008
- [ES] Comunicado sobre fallo del Juez Oyarbide en "causa Soho", Colegio de Graduados en Antropología de la República Argentina (Argentine College of Graduates in Anthropology), 17 junio 2008 
- [ES] ONG es fundada para combatir trabajo esclavo, Adital, 18 diciembre 2007 [article includes list of defendant companies] 
- [ES] Trabajo Esclavo: Camara Federal Ordeno Investigar a Empresas de Ropa, Télam, 7 diciembre 2007 
Bolivian Fire Victims Highlight Poor Conditions for Migrants Elena Solari, Intl. Organization for Migration, 2 Jun 2006 
Slave Labour Alive and Well, Marcela Valente, Inter Press Service, 1 Dec 2005 
- [ES] El horror boliviano en los talleres de costura de Buenos Aires, Bol Press, 1 Nov 2005 

- City Government of Buenos Aires: 
- [ES] Denuncia contra SOHO por trabajar con talleres clandestinos, 28 Mar 2007 
- [ES] El Gobierno porteño desmantela un taller textil informal, 18 Mar 2008
- Buenos Aires Public Advocate: [ES] Formula Denuncia [DOC][Public Advocate’s criminal complaint], Sep 2005

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