Feature

Consuelo Moreno wasn’t feeling well.

The 29-year-old mother of three had found work months earlier at a manufacturing plant in Rio Bravo, Mexico. Situated just south of the brackish Rio Grande, Rio Bravo is a humid border town where the summer temperature regularly creeps well past 100 degrees. The town square is green with palm trees and thick with little shops full of silver jewelry and panchos, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that peddle tacos, fajitas, and tamales. By U.S. standards the 95,000 residents have little. Most of the jobs are in manufacturing plants, and the luckier workers live with large families crowded into two-room cinderblock or dilapidated wood houses with cement floors, running water, and electricity. The poorer ones are bused to the factories from the colonias, or shantytowns, clustered to the south of the city, where they live in makeshift shacks with dirt floors, holes in the walls, and leaky roofs. A mattress in a corner often doubles as a couch, and most families don’t even have an outhouse. There, people cook meager meals over outdoor fires, and packs of mangy dogs roam the dirt roads.

Moreno toiled 10 hours or more each night shift for 320 pesos, roughly $30, a week. Each day, she glued handles onto at least 3,500 festive gift bags, many destined for retail stores in the United States that sell products by Hallmark Cards Inc. For each bag she produced, she received only a fraction of a penny, but American consumers gladly shell out $1.50 or more for one of the apple red, green plaid, or blue striped bags to save the hassle of wrapping their presents.

But Moreno didn’t think much about the huge profit margin enjoyed by the plant’s owner, Duro Bag Manufacturing Company, a Kentucky-based Hallmark supplier. (Duro’s seven manufacturing plants make paper and plastic bags — from grocery sacks to designer gift bags; the Rio Bravo plant is its only Mexican facility.) She didn’t spend much time anguishing over the duty-free customs regime set up by the Mexican government in the 1960s that allowed foreign corporations to build maquiladoras — manufacturing plants where they could take advantage of cheap Mexican labor — along the border.

What bothered Moreno were the piercing headaches she would get each day, the dizziness, and the cough. She attributed the symptoms to fumes from the strong adhesive used to attach the bag handles, the ever-present nimbus of fine dust that hung in the air from the machines that cut the paper, and the lack of fans. Fed up, Moreno visited Alejandro De la Rosa, the human resources manager at the plant. De la Rosa, along with plant manager Conrado Hinojosa, an American, had a reputation for bullying workers and sexually harassing the women, so it took guts to step into his office and ask for help.

“He told me, ‘There aren’t any masks. There aren’t any!'” Moreno says. “But that man never tried to get us any masks.”

Workers also complained about sanitary conditions. “The bathrooms were aw-ful,” Moreno remembers. “They were filthy, they stunk, and no one ever cleaned them.”

That was when workers were permitted to use them at all. Sometimes when workers requested bathroom breaks, managers screamed at them and told them no. Mosquitoes swarmed inside the plant, and workers sometimes found rats and rat feces — even snakes and scorpions — when they picked up rolls of paper. The food that was served in the cafeteria — rice with eggs and beans at almost every meal — was sometimes crawling with worms, flies, and cockroaches.

Moreno’s outrage grew as she watched co-workers who had it even worse than she did. The heavy machinery that cut and perforated the bags had no safety guards, so workers sometimes sliced their fingers on the equipment. Other workers — some of them 13- or 14-year-old girls, some of them pregnant — used strong solvents and alcohol to remove the glue drippings from the finished bags, and every now and then one of them would faint. A few pregnant women had miscarriages and began to hemorrhage at work, and there was no doctor on the premises.

Moreno went to the infirmary for her aches and pains. The company nurse gave her a little pill and shoved a paper cone of water into Moreno’s hand. But something wasn’t right.

“That pill — they gave it to anyone — for whatever was bothering you. If you say your arms hurt, your back hurts, whatever. And it makes you feel crazed, really agitated. You don’t get tired, you don’t get sleepy. Just crazy.” Moreno didn’t want to be drugged, so she stopped going to the infirmary.

Silvia Martinez, a 37-year-old worker who for four years made the twisted paper handles for the bags, avoided the place altogether, no matter how sick she was.

“I saw what was happening. Workers didn’t get sent home. They just were drugged so they would keep working,” Martinez says.

Moreno, Martinez, and a handful of other workers wanted to speak up for their rights, but the National Union of Workers in Paper, Cardboard, Wood, and Related Products (a branch of the Confederation of Mexican Workers, or CTM), which was supposed to represent them, was so entangled with the government and the companies’ interests that the workers saw no results from the group.

In October 1999, the workers formed a committee to fight to register their own union, the Duro Workers Union. Under Mexican federal labor law, a union must be registered with the government to have any rights or power; registered unions may negotiate collective bargaining agreements, meet with management, and strike legally. The Duro workers chose as their leader Eliud Almaguer, a diminutive man who had earned his co-workers’ respect when he led a fight to oust the ineffective secretary general from the local branch of the national paper workers union. Workers then rallied around Almaguer and elected him as the new secretary general.

The Duro Workers Union, the workers imagined, would stand up for them. The union would fight for air conditioning so they would not have to sweat in the factory’s dank heat. It would get safety guards put on the paper cutters. It would make sure the company raised salaries and did not swindle workers out of their attendance and productivity bonuses and that they would no longer be forced to work as much as 30 hours of overtime a week. Workers would get safety shoes and a monthly stipend to replace clothing stained by inks, dyes, and glue. The company cafeteria would provide fresh, hot food without the dead insects. A doctor would have an office on the premises.

Almaguer stepped up pressure on upper management. Why, he wanted to know, did two or three workers get their fingers chopped off each year by machines lacking safety guards? Why were workers regularly getting fingers caught in rollers, breaking bones? Why were the cords of the 220-volt machinery exposed to rainwater from a leaky roof? Why were emergency exits blocked in a paper factory, which could quickly go up in flames?

Management offered Almaguer $800 to stop asking questions.

He declined the company’s offer to buy him out for a half year’s salary, so plant managers fired him. Security guards escorted him out of the plant as police waited outside. Agitated by the firing, hundreds of workers went on strike. Bowing to striker’s demands, the company let Almaguer return as secretary general of the union, but not as a worker. The people returned to work, still supporting Almaguer as their leader.

But this past March, the company upped the ante.

Managers offered Almaguer and other members of the independent union’s executive committee thousands of dollars apiece if they would stop trying to register the Duro Workers Union with the Mexican government. More than 200 of the plant’s 1,000 workers went on strike again for several days, and Almaguer and the eight other committee members were fired.

The Rio Bravo plant manager, Conrado Hinojosa, did not return phone calls from PitchWeekly, but in March, he told a reporter from The Monitor newspaper in McAllen, Texas, that Almaguer and his co-workers “were never really fired. They left the plant during the walk-out. After that they just haven’t been coming.”

But Consuelo Moreno says otherwise. Just before she was fired, she says, she had a physical altercation with Alejandro De la Rosa.

“One night he called me from Mexico City. He said, ‘I’m going to give you some financial help if you help me with the people.’ I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about.”

The next day, Moreno says, De la Rosa called Moreno into his office and said, “Consuelo, Almaguer is a nobody. But me, I can give you money.” He offered to “pass her an envelope,” a Mexican way of discreetly offering a bribe. She refused, and De la Rosa flew into a rage. Moreno picked up a chair to fend him off, but he shoved her to the ground, kicking her. The fall hurt her bad leg, lame from a childhood attack of polio and a recent knee operation. In pain, she started to leave, and De la Rosa then shoved a resignation form at her, telling her to sign it so that the company would not have to pay her severance.

Moreno refused to sign — even when De la Rosa told her she owed him the $50,000 the company was losing and implied that harm would come to her family if she didn’t sign. She remembers De la Rosa shouting a warning as she left his office: “You’d better watch out!”

Moreno filed a formal complaint with the district attorney.

Then one day, as she was walking near her home with her 16-year-old daughter, two shabbily dressed men roared up in an old, rusty car. It happened in an instant; Moreno didn’t have a second to think, but later she surmised they were from the colonias.

“They looked poor. One was very dark and the other was more fair. One of them got out of the car and grabbed me and hit me in the stomach. He told me to think long and hard about withdrawing the complaint, because if I didn’t, my family would suffer. He said that was a message from Alejandro De la Rosa. Then he jumped back in the car and they went flying out of there.”

As the vehicle sped away down the dirt road, Moreno looked at her daughter, who began to cry.

“My daughter was so scared,” says Moreno, who is also afraid. “There are always cars going by our house, watching us. It’s a lot of harassment.”

The persecution angered the workers and strengthened their resolve. Almaguer remained the leader of local union efforts and, in mid-April, almost all of the Duro plant’s 1,000 workers walked out to protest the working conditions and show their support of the fired committee members.

The safety conditions had not improved. A fan had been installed, but it didn’t provide nearly enough air circulation. The workers were fed up.

But Duro managers sweet-talked them with promises of raises and vows to rehire the fired committee members. Within three days, most of the workers had returned to work. The managers’ promises were never fulfilled.

And managers continued to harass the organizers. A couple of months later, Almaguer returned home from a union-related trip to Mexico City to find that someone had ransacked his house, stolen strike-related documents, and poisoned his dog.

For three days, Rio Bravo police refused to take Almaguer’s report of the crime, telling him they were “too busy.” “It’s a constant struggle,” says 24-year-old Omar Gil, a labor activist who spends six hours a day protesting with the Duro workers. Gil works for TRW (a manufacturing and technology giant that designs and manufactures automotive and aerospace products in 35 countries) at a plant in the border town of Reynosa, about 30 minutes west of Rio Bravo. He spends more than 13 hours a day making seat belts.

Even at the maquiladoras that have better conditions, workers are still exploited, Gil says. He makes 3,600 seat belts a day. With overtime, he makes $67 a week, and the belts retail for $35 each. “The difference is stratospheric. It’s so unjust when we’re here in cardboard houses and wooden shacks, and their profit margins are so large.”

The number of maquiladoras is growing steadily, with more than 1 million Mexicans employed in more than 4,000 of the plants situated along the U.S.-Mexico border. The proliferation of maquiladoras has created what Almaguer calls “a paradise for transnational corporations.”

Hallmark, a privately owned company, does not release profit information but has announced a plan to triple its revenue by the year 2010. Corporate profiler Hoover’s Inc. reports that Hallmark sold $4.2 billion worth of merchandise last year, up from $2.7 billion in 1990. The company’s Kansas City headquarters includes the Crown Center shopping mall, where a Hallmark Cards shop sits behind a pagoda topped by the company’s trademark gold crown. The scent of potpourri and candles infuses the air, and cuddly stuffed bears line the shelves next to rows of card displays. On the wall above the store’s entrance, slogans painted in flowing cursive encourage customers to “Touch a Heart,” “Make ‘Em Smile,” and “Make a Difference.”

But Hallmark does not acknowledge a conflict between its image and the not-so-pleasant conditions in the Duro plant.

At the end of April, Moreno and 10 other frustrated workers filed wrongful termination grievances with the Federal Council of Mexican Conciliation and Arbitration, a government agency charged with investigating labor disputes. Shortly after that, workers found out that Hallmark had heard reports of the chaos and decided to push up an audit of the Duro plant that had been scheduled for July. The workers met and demanded to speak with a Hallmark representative.

Martha Ojeda, president of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (CJM), a San Antonio-based labor coalition that has been supporting Duro workers and sending them money, food, and phone cards, says she contacted Hallmark and offered support and translation services. At first, she says, one of the Hallmark auditors, a non-Spanish speaker, gratefully accepted.

“She said, ‘Yes, fantastic,’ but the next day she talked to her boss and he said she needed to be impartial. I said, ‘Tell me how you’re going to be impartial if you don’t speak Spanish? How are you going to choose the workers? Do you let the company choose them?'”

Workers inside the plant later said that personnel department workers from Duro — not Hallmark representatives — chose which workers would be allowed to speak with Hallmark. Workers say the company picked meek, mild workers who “don’t know how to defend themselves” and warned them not to elaborate on their answers. A man they didn’t know, who said he was from Reynosa, translated.

A Hallmark spokesperson says the company’s mission was to make sure that Duro was in compliance with its voluntary code of conduct.

The code covers labor practices, compensation, health and safety, and environment. And the workers’ reports show egregious violations. The code:

ð strictly prohibits employment of workers younger than 14 years old;

ð states that each employee shall be treated with “respect and dignity” and that “No employee shall be subject to any physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal harassment or abuse”;

ð requires the company to “respect the workers’ right to free association”;

ð maintains that “all overtime, as defined by local regulations or practice, will be strictly voluntary”;

ð says that “employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment”;

ð and stipulates that “restrooms should be clean and available for all employees.”

The code of conduct tells suppliers that Hallmark may cancel their contracts if it discovers code violations. During the inspection of the Duro plant, however, Hallmark’s representatives said they found no violations of their code of conduct and they renewed their contract with Duro — something organizers said was not a surprise.

“Hallmark does not really care about the workers — that’s a lie,” Almaguer says. “The only thing they care about is that the workers do the best job possible for the least amount of money. Any person who walks into that plant immediately notices the terrible conditions — with health, safety, lack of air conditioning, unsanitary conditions. Hallmark went into that plant several times. They had to have realized how bad things are there.”

On the first day of the audit, fired Duro workers waited outside the plant with signs, hoping to talk to a Hallmark representative, with no luck.

“And that was the impartial investigating,” Ojeda says angrily.

It’s not surprising that Hallmark found no violations of the code of conduct, says Judy Ancel, who is director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a member of the CJM. Ancel interviewed Duro workers in June and has been talking with Hallmark representatives, trying to convince them to apply pressure to Duro to make improvements at the plant.

“It’s a good code of conduct. Unfortunately, their monitoring system makes it not worth much. It’s like the fox guarding the hen house,” Ancel says. She has a taped interview with one worker who had been chosen to speak with Hallmark.

“Someone from the personnel office came through my line and chose me. Hallmark didn’t choose me,” the worker says. She tells Ancel the interview took place in an office, where she was alone with the man and woman from Hallmark. She says the Hallmark representatives asked her if the company gave her food and if it provided chairs and that they inquired about production standards, pay, and vacation. They did not ask about the union, the strike, Almaguer, or the firings. The worker also says she did not feel able to speak the truth during the interview.
“I didn’t feel free, no, because she was taking notes and he was typing all I said into a computer, and I didn’t know what would happen to it…. She said it was private, but I didn’t believe it. I answered what they asked, but they never asked how the work was, if I agreed with it, how the company was. They never asked any of that … (and) I told them that things weren’t going well in respect to our leader, and that they wouldn’t let him come back, and they wouldn’t let us have our own union. And I asked her if they could do something about that so he could come back and she said no. She said this wasn’t what they were dealing with and that this wasn’t why they were interviewing us.”

Ancel says she’s told Hallmark representatives: “You guys could really be the good guys in all this; you could really stand for what’s right, but instead you are hiding behind the lies that Duro is telling you and saying, ‘We have no way to determine what the truth is.’

“I mean, the workers are picked by a member of management. They’re taken upstairs to a room on company premises. Hallmark assures them that this is just between them, but the workers, who see Hallmark as connected to management, have no reason at all to trust Hallmark. Occasionally you are going to find a very daring worker who’s going to tell you the truth.”

A Hallmark representative from the purchasing department pointed to recent cancellations of contracts in China for code-of-conduct violations, Ancel says, but that does not satisfy her.

“I said, ‘That’s fine, but most of the time you’re not gonna get it. It’s not gonna come out of that system of monitoring.'”

Ancel says the CJM offered to set up a meeting with the union and with the fired committee members, but Hallmark refused. “They kept saying ‘later.’ And later hasn’t come.”

Ancel blames Duro management for the workers’ plight but emphasizes Hallmark’s responsibility as well. “Hallmark is always saying what a responsible corporation it is,” she says.

Hallmark spokeswoman Julie O’Dell says Hallmark conducted a second visit, although she is unsure of the date, and once again, its investigators found no violations of their code. She refuses to discuss specifics of the audit, saying she does not want to “air the company’s dirty laundry” and “I’m not going to get into a debate about this.”

“This is not our plant — this is Duro Bags’ plant,” O’Dell adds. “We are nothing but a customer. In fact, our business is nothing but 15 percent of this plant’s output. I think some people are assuming we are more wrapped up in this, that we have more responsibility or more influence with Duro than we really do.”

Ancel says the workers dispute the 15 percent figure, saying they estimate that Hallmark is a “substantial” part of the plant’s business — 50 percent or more. Ancel says Hallmark also claims they do “only $3 million worth” of business with Duro each year, but that cannot be independently confirmed.

“I really think you should talk to Duro,” O’Dell says. “This is their plant. These are their employees. These are their issues.”

Duro justifies the poor wages and conditions by asserting that they are no worse than the pay and conditions in other maquiladoras.

“Duro de Rio Bravo has a positive and productive relationship with our employees and the CTM Union since the plant was built over 10 years ago. We have provided wages, benefits, and working conditions comparable to other maquiladoras in the area. We are committed to working with our employees and their union to provide a positive working environment,” reads a company statement issued on June 23. Charles Shor, the president and CEO of the family-owned company, which calls itself “the largest manufacturer of paper shopping bags in the world,” did not return phone calls regarding the Rio Bravo plant.

Omar Gil calls the statement that Duro’s conditions are on par with other maquiladoras “a ball of lies.” And Almaguer, who has worked in several maquiladoras, says the conditions in other plants are “100 times better” than at Duro.It was a sweltering Sunday in June. Eliud Almaguer gathered the workers and sat on the hood of an old car while more than 200 people gathered around him.

“Do we have — or do we not have — grave problems in the maquiladora?” he shouted in Spanish.

“Sí!” the workers yelled.

“I do not want to incite anyone to strike!” Almaguer shouted. “But we have rights and they are being violated! First and foremost, we have the right to free association!”

Labor activists including Ancel and Mark Horowitz, who lives in McAllen, Texas, and is working toward a doctorate at the University of Kansas, were eager to offer their support but didn’t want to impose their ideas on the Mexican workers. Police snapped photos from a distance, to offer later as “proof” that the whole strike was being orchestrated by gringos who were disgruntled, they would say, because Mexicans were taking American jobs.

Ancel and Horowitz tried to inject the rally with a dose of reality, warning the workers that they could not promise swift financial support or specify the amount they would be able to raise. But the workers remained firm: They voted to strike and to pull out of the CTM, the national, government-dominated union.

“It was unanimous. They were disgusted. They just weren’t willing to put up with it anymore,” Ancel remembers. “So often, in these situations, both in the U.S. and Mexico, it’s the same thing: People want to be treated with dignity. And that’s basic and that’s what gets them most upset.”

A few women shouted out, enumerating the poor working conditions, complaining about the drinking water that Duro provided, which they said was dirty and had hairs in it.

“And the rat poop!” yelled one woman.

On Monday, June 12, 250 Duro workers walked off the job, the third work stoppage this year. They set up a plantón, or a permanent camp, on a dirt lot outside the company, and groups of workers stayed there round-the-clock for 16 days. Omar Gil says they slept in cars in 110-degree heat, constantly swatted away flies and mosquitoes, went to the bathroom outdoors, and took shifts going to someone’s house to cook meals for the group.

“It was hard. It was so hot. But we were determined,” Gil says.

Almaguer camped there with his wife, who was also a Duro employee, and their 13-year-old daughter. Many workers had their children at the camp. María Francisca Orozco’s 8-year-old son, Valdemar, became dehydrated and contracted hepatitis. His mother had put off seeking care because Duro had cut off healthcare benefits, but she finally took him to a private clinic in desperation. In July, Valdemar died at the clinic. The grieving Orozco was left with no money for a burial or to pay the clinic bills.

On June 14, a Duro official announced that workers who did not return to work immediately could be fired and said that the company had asked the Mexican labor secretary to intervene and end the strike. The plant manager admitted to a local reporter that conditions at the Duro plant were “average to below average” compared with other maquiladoras.

Four days later, workers hung the traditional red and black protest banners on the outside of the fence surrounding the Duro plant. They had plans to lock the gate, as is customary, but decided against it when management called the police to complain. About a dozen police cars arrived at the strike scene.

Horowitz says police quickly zeroed in on him, “the only gringo male” in the group. They asked him to get in the squad car for questioning, but he resisted, afraid to go alone.

“Images of Mexican police brutality were rushing through my head,” Horowitz remembers. He grabbed the police car door, fighting officers’ efforts to shove him in the car.

About 50 workers screamed at the police that Horowitz had nothing to do with the strike. Police began kicking him in the groin and punching him.

Horowitz finally gave in when his glasses were hit off. Police took Horowitz to a “stifling” jail cell that reeked of urine, where he was “crammed in” with six other people. Seven workers were later arrested and jailed as well. Police allowed families of the strikers to bring food, and Horowitz and the workers were released after a day and a half and several calls to senators and the U.S. Department of State by Ancel.

Horowitz and the workers were charged with striking without government permission, trespassing, and kidnapping (for holding workers inside the plant hostage when they allegedly locked the gates to the plant), but charges were later dropped when they produced a photograph that showed the gates unlocked. Bail, paid by CJM, was $2,500.

After their release, the workers continued trying to get the Duro Workers Union officially registered with the Mexican government. The company fired the 200 striking workers. At the end of June, they took a bus to Ciudad Victoria because the president of the National Workers’ Union was going to meet on their behalf with the governor of the State of Tamaulipas, Tomës Yarrington Ruvalcaba. After the meeting, the workers were told that all the committee members, except Almaguer, would be reinstated and that their union would be officially registered.

Jubilant, Almaguer announced the news to the other workers and said he was pleased the victory happened a day after his daughter’s birthday, because he and his wife had no money for a present for her.

“This is the best gift I could give my daughter — the struggle for justice,” Almaguer said.The celebration came to a halt a day later when the fired committee members began receiving telegrams from the company telling them that, in order to return to work, they would need written proof that they had been ill since June 12. By law, they would have to visit the national health system’s doctors to obtain excuses, and they knew that would be impossible — maquiladora owners pressure the government health system not to give out illness excuses to workers so the companies can fire them without severance pay.

Dejected, three women went to a garment factory to interview for new jobs. There they were told they had been blacklisted as “troublemakers.” And later that day, the workers heard that the lieutenant governor was sending a messenger to notify them that their local union could not be registered because the CTM has a local chapter with which they could affiliate.

At the same time, the president of the Conciliation and Arbitration Board arrived in Rio Bravo with a document addressed to the governor, and he pressured Almaguer to sign. The document stated that the workers admitted to “conducting an illegal strike, which justified the intervention of the authorities to reestablish order.” It also read that “we reject, and will reject, the intervention of foreigners in issues which we should resolve by ourselves exclusively as Mexicans.”

Almaguer refused to sign, and the workers continued to meet every day at the town square to picket with signs asking that the governor intervene to allow them to register their union and to give them a resolution. They celebrated a quasi-victory on July 2 when Mexico’s Revolutionary Institutional Party was defeated for the first time in a presidential election in 71 years. The old party had a firm grip on almost every aspect of Mexican life — including labor — but workers weren’t sure how they would fare with the new president, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive.

The first week of August, the workers took yet another vote. Gathered at the town square, they decided to continue with their daily demonstrations until the end of August, when they expect to hear the results of their most recent attempt to register the Duro Workers Union.

“I’m still feeling good. I am prepared to keep on going until the other workers say, ‘That’s enough!'” says Silvia Martinez.

Striking workers say Duro has made a few improvements but that they’re just palliative measures. Workers on the inside of the plant report that Duro contracts with a company that now cleans the bathrooms regularly, but workers still have no masks, gloves, safety shields, protective shoes, or proper ventilation.

American organizations continue to send money, and PACE — the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers International Union, which represents workers in three of Duro’s American plants — donated $5,000 to the cause and has come out in support of the Mexican workers.

“We want the company to establish an equitable and fair relationship with them,” says Keith Romig, associate director of national and international affairs for PACE.

CJM has been in close contact with the striking Duro workers, while the Mexican government, calling CJM members “gringo agitators,” recently instructed the Mexican telephone company, Telemex, to block all collect calls to CJM offices.

CJM has set up a fund for the workers, who have chosen to use the money for one meal a day and their fare to and from the town square for the daily protests. Almaguer says he uses none of the money for himself and gets a bit of financial help from family in Reynosa.

“I am desperate. It’s a desperate situation because I have a family to feed,” Almaguer says. “But I will not give up. I don’t have the heart to abandon the people.”

In Kansas City, Ancel continues to try to influence Hallmark — not to cancel its contract with Duro, which would put hundreds out of work, but to use its leverage with Duro to improve conditions.

“We have had frequent phone conversations,” Ancel says, pointing out that managers in the Hallmark purchasing department called her when they learned she had been talking about the issue around Kansas City.

“They’re obviously concerned about how it’s going to affect their image. They clearly want to have communication rather than to have confrontation…. They know the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras is part of a network of groups all over the country and internationally. So they’re anxious to appear to do the right thing. (But) I’m not at all satisfied with what they’re doing. Hallmark could be much more outspoken on this.”

And Mark Horowitz doesn’t buy Hallmark’s efforts to distance itself from Duro. “Hallmark is only a ‘customer’ in a narrow and misleading sense,” says Horowitz. “It’s more like an employer simply one step removed in the production chain. In the final analysis Hallmark receives the product of the Duro workers and then sells that product at a huge markup in the United States. Duro is just a middleman to Hallmark and the other retailers who turn a blind eye to the ugly conditions of production that they benefit from and conveniently wash their hands of.”

So, Horowitz says, “The veritable slave wages, lack of safety equipment, chemicals, worker abuse, and all the rest don’t, after all, make for a very touching Hallmark moment.”

Categories: News