Sweatshop labour lawsuit (re Bolivian migrant workers in Argentina)

Sweatshop workers By:Gary Dee, Creative Commons

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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Author: Eduardo Videla, Página 12 [Argentina]

La Cámara Federal porteña aceptó el recurso de apelación presentado por la Cooperativa La Alameda, contra un fallo del juez federal Norberto Oyarbide, quien sobreseyó a tres directivos de una empresa de indumentaria [Gilmar SA, que comercializa la marca Soho] que contrataban a inmigrantes indocumentados. El juez...argumentó que el régimen laboral de precarización extrema a que eran sometidos los inmigrantes era una consecuencia de “costumbres y pautas culturales de los pueblos originarios del altiplano boliviano”...[L]a historiadora Fernanda Gil Lozano...rechazó la “absurda argumentación del juez Oyarbide que justifica el trabajo esclavo que apañan empresas multinacionales al calor de los derechos culturales”. Para la legisladora, con los talleres que trabajan con inmigrantes ilegales “estamos presenciando el delito de trata, ya que estas personas son trasladadas (desde su país de origen) para cometer sobre ellas el delito de explotación laboral”...

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Author: Télam [Argentina]

La Cámara Federal revocó el sobreseimiento de dos hombres y una mujer acusados de explotar a ciudadanos extranjeros [Bolivianos], en talleres textiles clandestinos en Buenos Aires...sometiéndolos a "condiciones indignas"...los talleres [los] contrataba la empresa textil Soho...[los acusados] deberán seguir siendo investigados...La medida alcanzó a Néstor Sánchez Anterino, Gabina Verón y Hermes Provenzano quienes habían sido denunciados...y sobreseídos por el juez...Oyarbide en una singular interpretación de costumbres del altiplano que sus superiores rechazaron. Los sobreseimientos fueron apelados por el fiscal Luis Comparatore, y por la querella -Liga Argentina por los Derechos Humanos representada por el abogado Rodolfo Yanzón...De las denuncias planteadas se desprende que en los talleres trabajaban mayores y menores de edad, que "las víctimas y sus familias" vivían en condiciones "deplorables" y los obreros "eran sometidos a prolongadísimas jornadas laborares, malos tratos e insignificantes salarios".

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5 April 2016

Argentina: 10 years after Bolivian migrant labourers die in sweatshop fire, victims & their families still looking for justice

Author: Eduardo Avila, Global Voices

"Still No Justice 10 Years After Bolivian Migrants Die in Sweatshop Fire in Argentina", 30 Mar 2016

Approximately 3,000 “clandestine” garment factories operate in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, according to the local non-governmental organization La Alameda…The conditions inside are often described as “slave-like”…Since many workers are undocumented, they are always fearful of deportation and unable to protest the low wages, long hours, and poor treatment…On March 30, 2006, a fire broke out in one of these sweatshops…The blaze killed five children and one pregnant woman, all of whom were Bolivian immigrants...Survivors said that the windows had iron bars on the outside…Ten years later, no one has been held accountable, and critics point to severe flaws in the Argentine justice system for the lack of redress. However, that may change — a trial to determine responsibility is due to begin on April 18, 2016.

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