International News

This Week: Wal-Mart Isn't Fair to Bolivian Workers

This week's feature story describes an effort by Wal-Mart stores to sell green items from jewelry to clothing. The manufacturing giant made a promise to buyers that both its workers and the environment would be treated well when it comes to the things it sells. Unfortunately, jewelry made by a South Florida company, Aurafin, and sold by the chain store giant doesn't make the grade. An investigation by freelance journalist Jean Friedman-Rudovsky to be published this week unmasks the many wrongs done to the workers who make the stuff in La Paz including strip searches, exceedingly low pay and brutal union busting. Here's an excerpt:

José recalls being in a meeting when a coworker complained about the low pay. A supervisor responded: "You don't have the right to demand anything here because we are the ones who put the bread on your table each day." José's job of filing gold created a lot of dust, but he wasn't given a mask for protection.

After three months he was let go, as were all but 30 of the approximately 200 that entered with him. José was disheartened. But that didn't change the fact that he needed to work to help support his parents and younger bother. So in 2005, he sought out a job closer to home--in one of El Alto's talleres, or clandestine workshops, that supply labor for the Aurafin factory.

"I thought I knew what I was getting into," José remembers. The experience was worse than he imagined: poor pay, no benefits, and long hours. Workers were forced to complete tedious tasks like braiding gold chains in rough conditions and with verbal abuse by supervisors. And it's these workshops that constitute the most glaring contradiction between Love, Earth's promises and on-the-ground reality.

Records released in 2008 by the Aurafin factory confirm 11 percent of its costs, or $918,000, went toward paying the workshops to produce jewelry--meaning a yearly per worker salary of approximately $574, or less than $50 each month.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse