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Rapu Rapu, and Wal-Mart in the Philippines

From our Philippines writer:

Rapu-rapu is an island down south of Manila that hosts an Australian mining company, Lafayette Mining. Two cyanide spills and the succeeding inadequate risk and reputation management have made it a test case for the country’s mining law. The courts just recently allowed foreigners to exploit mineral resources, which the country has a lot of since it’s within the “ring of fire.” Lafayette was the first to be given a license, so the cyanide spills all the more gave the anti-mining advocates — led by the very politically influential Catholic Church — a reason to call for the repeal of the mining law again.

It’s a story with all the ingredients – politics, environmentalists, capitalists, the church, you name it.

So far, it seems that the mining industry players have won this round. They have been aggressively trying to attract foreign investors. The fact-finding report commissioned by the Philippine president — and prepared by a team led by a Catholic bishop — has been set aside. To pacify them, the environment minister has been making pronouncements that they will only give mining permits to foreign investors who will practice CSR. Hmm.

On Wal-Mart, there is a campaign being run by the International Labor Rights Fund against a supplier site run by a Korean company suppling Wal-Mart. The campaign claims:

“On September 25, 2006, the United Workers of Chong Won in the Philippines declared a strike demanding that factory management immediately begin to negotiate with their trade union. The management of garment factory Chong Won Fashion Inc. has violated workers’ freedom of association, forced workers to take on 24 hour shifts, and does not allow workers to drink water or go to the bathroom during work hours. As the primary buyer from the factory, Wal-Mart is responsible for protecting the human rights of workers at factories like Chong Won.”

But all is not what it seems, according to our expert on the ground:

“Chon Won, as I gathered, is a Korean-owned company in an export processing zone a few kilometers south of Manila. Just like other investors in garments, i bet this Korean company has been around since the 80’s, when having a garments business in the Philippines was still hot. Low labor costs beckoned. With it came labor unions which became the springboard for militant (sometimes, undercover terrorist) groups who loathed capitalists. The right to organize, especially in the garments industry, has been abused to negotiate for irrationally high wages and eventually push companies to close, leaving thousands unemployed, whle the union leaders enjoy their big houses and lofty lifestyle. I’ve seen this over and over again.

Most garment companies have CSR standards imposed on them by Western buyers, like Wal Mart. But with a militant union hanging around, there’s always tendency to wash dirty linens in public. And if the noise doesnt stop, Wal Mart will just not source from them anymore. So much for poverty reduction efforts in developing countries.”

2 Comments

  1. I am writing from the International Labor Rights Fund and am shocked that this writer would make wide assumptions concerning the Chong Won situation. While it may be true in some cases what the writer refers to as militant unions, Chong Won Fashion is an honest case of workers demanding basic things like water during work, non poverty wages, and legal work hours. Florie Arevalo came to the US in Feb 2006 and spoke with consumers, students, churches, labor unions, and others about her factory. This is a clear cut case where management has arbitarily fired workers, used violence and repression, and spread many many lies but in the end the factory management now realizes that their business is at risk because buyers such as Wal-Mart don’t want to be associated with facotires that go against their code of conduct which are elaborations of ILO Core Labor Standards. I hope that this writer will consider looking at the facts before making generalizations particularly when the livelyhood of hundreds are at stake.

    For more information go to http://www.LaborRights.org.

  2. Anonymous

    Aside from that case, s silent increase in labor rights violations in many call centers in the Philippines where the employees are young, uninformed and timid to assert for their rights.

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