By Cassie Zonnefeld, MCC Nicaragua. This post corresponds to a previous post that reflected on workers who are employed in free trade zones in Nicaragua.
I just happened to be wearing an old pair of Gap jeans when I sat down with my Spanish teacher the other day. I love these jeans and remember how excited I was when I found them on sale some years back. However, that excitement dwindled after we began talking about my jeans, and the price she paid for my once perceived bargain.
Much of Spanish learning comes via conversation. We talk about the little things, the everyday subjects like the weekends, the heat and the mango harvest. Throughout our time here we have built relationships with our teachers. On this day, teacher and I were chatting about our previous work experiences. My teacher shared that she worked in the Zona Franca (the free trade zone) for two years, spending her days reviewing the quality of items before exportation. She had to make sure that the items did not have any tears, snags or coloring issues. I then proceeded to ask her what kind of items her factory made and she responded jeans. She then asked me if I had heard of “the Gap.”
“Cost to family” not included in price
She continued to share about the work environment that she endured for a couple of years before she was able to return to school in hopes for a better job. She left her house (and her kids) every day at 5:00am and returned at 9:00pm. She received a half an hour break for lunch and her managers took record of how many times their employees used the bathroom. I sat there in horror as she described the company’s “poor conditions” wondering if the jeans I was wearing were previously reviewed by her.
Her whopping paycheck came to 600 cords a month. That is $24.00 per month, $6.00 per week and a measly $0.86 cents a day (they work six days a week). And don’t forget her long hours away from her family.
Making slavery human
All of this reminded me of this blog post that we wrote awhile back about the “slaves” working for us. I had twenty-five slaves working for me when I did the calculations and now I am able to put a face on one of these people. You see, my teacher is incredibly talented and yet she ended up working in one of these factories for two years of her life. Many others end up there for their entire working lives.
To learn more about how Mennonite Central Committee advocates for just trading policies and practices, visit the MCC Washington Advocacy Office website.
Photo credit: Nicaragua: 54% of Jobs Recovered