Invisibility and precariousness: the violent reality of the clothing industry in Chile

                                                                                                            It's Tuesday in the town La Victoria. In a passage located between the streets of Unidad Popular and Carlos Marx, the house-workshop of Danila Oliva (47) is located, one of the women who is a home textile worker, that is, who makes and arranges clothes from her home. She makes our clothes.
She is sitting next to Yanet Uribe (58), another neighbor who works from home, only now they received an order together. While they talk their hands do not stop moving and beside them stands a huge pile of pink backpacks. They say they are behind with the order. They ordered 1,200 bags and they could not cope; They knew it was hard work, but they need to eat. For each full backpack, they earn $ 200 – so each one takes $ 100 -. They yawn and complain of the pain in their fingers and back. They continue working and leaving backpacks in the pile, pink backpacks stamped with a giant R. Danila and Yanet are making pieces for the Ripley multi-shop. The big R is followed by the word kids. An irony of job insecurity, because those backpacks are made by children, for children.
The country with the largest consumption of clothing in Latin America is Chile and official figures place it as half of the consumption that is invoiced in the region that, since 2012 to date, has increased by about 80% per person in an annual average However, these percentages are only a reflection of how the economy moves in the country, since, in the retail market, the apparel subsector is the third largest after hypermarkets and packaged food, so , at a Latin American level, Chile is among the countries that consume the most at the time of dressing.
The textile and garment industry is a sector that has mostly women as part of their workforce. Since the Pinochet dictatorship, during the 80s, there was a process of outsourcing of work to make the national market competitive worldwide, this led to massive layoffs, as it sought to dismantle the factories to bring work to homes and so lower costs.
In this context, the Chilean textile industry completely decays, in which during the seventies, 97% of the clothing of Chilean families was made in Chile. Currently, that figure falls to 7%, also producing a cut in the productive chain and being fertile ground for these workshops of former workers who were dismissed or women who inherited the trade. "Generally women have industrial machines in their homes, they gave them as compensation for years of service and they took them when they broke the companies, therefore, they maintained their source of work," says Patricia Coñoman, social worker and president of the National Confederation of Textile Workers (Contextil) for 20 years.
An invisible and dark item
Home work works without contracts, schedules or fixed rates. It is rather a word and trust agreement. There is the figure of the "enganchador", who is the one who has direct contact with the big retail companies, looks for the workers, makes the order and then requests the fulfillment of a date for the delivery of the products, to which they can get twice the profit without making any effort other than a contact for outsourcing work.
"I work all night. The next day I go to the shower, blink an hour and continue with the snag. I have children who from 11 years old dawned with me working. The one who is now 19 years old, dawned with buttons and the next day he went to school. The family suddenly sees you so desperate to deliver a glue that everyone helps you, if in the end it is for us. They are coins that one does not have and needs, "says Danila, while sliding laces between the seams of the backpacks. He takes them firmly, but in a difficult way. Try to stretch your hand to show your fingers, however, they only vary a little their angle to continue rigid.
Bag after bag, Danila and Yanet continue to work without stopping. The delay in orders entails fines and economic sanctions, along with constant threats of losing consideration for future work, because it makes a common situation that the whole family, from children to older adults, get involved in the production and confection to comply with the deadlines, according to the Study of Work at Home in the Clothing Chain in Chile, of the Sol Foundation. This also points out the diseases to which they are exposed: arthrosis, discopathies, low back pain, loss of muscle mass in the back, Kyphosis (deviation of the spine), swelling and leg pain, tendonitis and wear in the ligaments of the knees, are some of these.
Yanet, like Danila, works in the textile industry since she was 15 years old. Both did not finish teaching because of the need to support themselves. Today, with around 58 years old, he says that he can no longer see without glasses and that the headaches are terrible while he tells of the problem to the kidneys, back and knees, in addition to stress, because for these same backpacks days collapsed.
-I called crying to Dani, telling her I could not. I had 2 thousand bags, the deadline was approaching and in a day I barely make 100. I also called the company crying, saying that I did not want more … that I could not …
-And what did they say? -Nothing poh. That I had to answer no more. That where they were going to send them, that I had already committed myself, that later they would reward me with a better paid job.
Product of the informality and lack of regulation with which these levels of the textile production line operate, the workers have no health forecast. Also, they do not quote in AFP nor can they be protected under labor laws. "They pass us the money no more. One signature to commit for the deadlines. We do not see the faces of the big ones, only the people who take the trouble and offer it. They are always people from up there. The industry needs us because they pay very little. They avoid paying. We do not have foresight, they do not pay the maintenance of the machines, they avoid the expenses ", summarizes Danila, getting up difficultly to cut more cords. Use a metal girdle to keep your spine straight and soothe back pains that can not be met due to lack of money. "One has no right to get sick," he whispers.
Home textile workers, product of the presence of the intermediary, only know the brands for which they work because of the labels. Many times it is the same enganchador who is going to withdraw the products, but everything varies according to the company.
Walking for Patronato is always a bombardment of the latest trends at very low prices. The small streets crowded with mannequins, offer costumes from $ 2,000. When walking it is usual to hear the noise of sewing machines coming from the same clothing factories located nearby, but apparently the attractive price has a relationship with the exploitation that is installed at the origin of the characteristic sound.
Pablo Galaz is the representative in Chile of the international organization called Fashion Revolution, which ensures the elimination of all types of violence in the textile industry by promoting the oversight role of the consumer. He argues that this violence is more present than one believes and that it is directly proportional to the cost of clothing: "The low costs apparently of clothing in developing countries, or with many free trade agreements (like ours), comes from the pressure that is exerted on people. Nobody makes the price cut from profits, transportation or distribution; it is cut in the quality, the protection of the rights of the workers, in salary and security ", it details.
Marcela Meneses is a costume designer with 35 years of experience. He has worked in corporate clothing factories, various boutiques and created the costumes of the reality show "Mundos Opuestos", on Channel 13. During his career there have been times when he has needed support from external workshops and he says that he got to know the low-cost workshops of Patronato . Where, for a very low cost, they receive the total of the order in a very short time. That's already been 10 years.

Likewise, L. – who has preferred to protect her identity – is a costume designer 6 years ago. Today it has its own brand and store. He says that due to the need for support in production he came to one of these workshops. "What I saw left me shocked. It was a locked warehouse with a padlock on the outside, where there were about forty people. They promised to have everything on time because they had to work all night if necessary. They charged by pledge. They were all crowded, without protection, "says L. with concern.
When walking by Patronato, it seems to be an open secret. When asking about low-cost workshops nobody knows; however, it is enough to insist a little and talk about large volumes so that the addresses rain down. The procedures are specified in detail: "Go to that side, ask for David, say that Juan Antonio sends you", "enter by such a cité, knock on the door on the side of the yellow house". The prices are kept within the same range: $ 600 for a t-shirt made from scratch, $ 200 for sewing, $ 100 for cutting. They offer to have 300 garments in less than a week.
The institutions that should ensure the dignity of work operate in a contradictory manner, on the one hand, the State of Chile does not recognize or have knowledge of this form of work, as stated by the Labor Directorate through its communications officer. However, for the Internal Revenue Service (SII), these workers are seen as "independent workers", "microentrepreneurs" and "enterprising", when in reality the lack of a contract, health forecast and pension system is omitted, still raising plus the levels of precarization and are totally restricted to apply for any social benefit.
During the military dictatorship the so-called "Labor Plan" was implemented, a set of provisions that completely changed the social norms contained in the Labor Code of 1931: Decree Law 2200 of 1978, which legislated in relation to labor contract and the protection of the workers. This reform is key to understanding the situation of domestic workers in Chile. "When Labor Code 2200 is made, the workers at home are left out of it. Therefore, they do not exist in the Labor Code and, at the same time, Chile has never signed contracts (international) related to work at home, "explains Patricia Coñoman.
Along the same lines, it is necessary to understand that, in order for this system to work within current regulations, "there are many legal gaps and lack of State concern. We are under a form that reformed the collective bargaining system, "explains Nicole Henríquez, a lawyer specialized in Labor Law.
Against this background, Alexander Paez, researcher of the Sol Foundation, points to the State as the main factor in the precariousness induced to the homes of working women: "Both companies, the State and its social legislation are co-authors; However, the State acts to make invisible and precarious labor regulations, not guaranteeing rights in the absence of a social security system and promoting ideological and palliative measures of micro-entrepreneurship, training and seed capital ". However, there is another way that can contribute positively.
Unionization in response
The creation of homeworkers' unions has been a fundamental pillar for the organization and, above all, the training of women workers to learn how to generate spaces for collective action and apply for local fairs or larger projects, such as financing funds, in addition to the activities of a union, where they foster cooperation links and, in this case, solidarity.
Washing clothes, making lunch, going to leave the children to school, worrying about all the chores of the home and also work on making the pending order, are only part of the obligations that these women assume every day, without rest or schedules. This situation generates empathy among the workers, who not only share the situation of precariousness, but also their status as women that it is impossible not to connect with life experiences, where class and gender intersect.
In this context it is that generating spaces of organization is transformed into instances to promote empowerment and that, thus, these women begin to raise their voices to face the violence of their workplace and also domestic. The different organized women's unions, being that of Coquimbo the largest in the country with about 60 members, become spaces for socialization and self-training.
At the same time, the union seeks to make women aware of the need to claim their rights and the impact that this type of work entails both on a personal and political level, with their own home being the place of exploitation, so it implies a new concept of territory, consequently, this type of organization among workers is committed to giving value to work and seeks to make visible the great consequences of the isolation and invisibility of the sector.
In the case of Yanet and Danila, both are part of the National Confederation of Textile Workers (Contextil). They have great confidence how this space has allowed them to access information that they could never have reached. Thanks to the holding of meetings and assistance from foreign exhibitors, they learned that their work was previously valued, their rights, the real price of their work, what is human trafficking and, above all, that the organization is a fundamental tool.
Thanks to this, they themselves raised a union with their other compañeras of the La Victoria population. However, that project was stalled due to lack of time. Likewise, they have not been able to attend other Contextil meetings due to lack of money. In this way, a spiral is generated that blocks the organization: to have money they must work, when they take the orders they must meet the deadlines, so they do not have time. And so on. Despite this, consumers also have an active role in violence.
Conscious consumers
The violence present in the locker room is maintained during its purchase and subsequent use. It is included in the value we pay: the $ 10 thousand t-shirt includes the $ 600 for its preparation and the $ 9,400 in profits for the company. Therefore, Pablo Galaz, representative in Chile of Fashion Revolution, argues that a real factor of change is the impact on these profits, and this will only be achieved through the visibility that fosters a personal conscience, "because deep down it is a responsibility, since you pay for a product made on the basis of exploitation. If you have that information, transpose it. If you realize the bad conditions, it influences for that to change. So, to the extent that we achieve greater prominence of consumers in the brands we buy – to demand greater transparency and action on suppliers – these will generate actions and changes. And changes have been made. "
Thus, when trying to consult Ripley and Cannon for their position on the fact that the products they commercialize were made through child labor, it was not possible to specify a response.
Danila and Yanet argue that they want to continue working with companies, but at the same time achieve an improvement in their working conditions. "You all, dress because we work, because without us there would not be people who made clothes," says empowered Danila. "I do not have the contacts or resources, but it would be good to be able to talk to them directly and tell them 'this I offer and in these conditions'. But how am I going to compete in a contest against the big ones? In the end I live here and that is why they discriminate against you, "he concludes, setting aside the backpacks he held in his aching hands throughout the interview.
In La Victoria the streets are adorned with paper pennants that cross them from the heights. Yanet retires because he must go to give lunch to his grandson. "I was giving the PSU, I hope it goes well. In the end one does this so that they can have a better life than the one they had, "he says.
"My dream is to fix my teeth, I'm already old and I have not been able to do it in the office. When you go with a toothache, they take it out, they do not fix it. For me that would be my dream, to fix my teeth and have a place to sell my things, "says Yanet, leaving aside the lenses that guide her in every stitch she gives.
"Do not. I no longer believe in dreams … I have many, but one knows that they will not be fulfilled. I do not project. The only thing I have wanted is to have a place to work quietly and be able to make what you really want to do. When a girl was supposed to be a costume designer, but lack of resources poh … I'm tired of life, but the only thing that drives me to continue are my grandchildren ", concludes Danila, while looking at the time, pending going to prepare lunch for the family.



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