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Mexicans admit “slave labour” raid on Jalisco sock factory was unwarranted

The Yes International sock factory in Mexico’s Jalisco state was preparing to re-open on  February 12 after local authorities admitted no evidence had been found to support allegations against it made in an anonymous phone call

Mexican authorities had ordered the factory’s temporary closure on February 4 after finding 121 women and eight men, who reportedly told prosecutors that they were “victims of physical and sexual abuse, as well as threats, psychological harm and gruelling work days,” according to Ardelio Vargas Fosado, coordinator of Mexico’s National Migration Institute. (INM).

Four South Koreans were handed over to prosecutors in the state  after workers identified them as the factory’s owners or managers, he added. Vargas described the South Koreans to reporters as a “gang of suspected human traffickers.”

Victor Manuel Torres Moreno, a labour ministry official, and colleagues claimed at the time that:

  • Workers had “unsanitary” conditions, with pollutants in their place of work,
  • The material they handled posed a fire hazard while the company had no fire safety equipiment
  • Employees endured verbal abuse
  • Younger workers had to work “exhausting” days
  • Workers also lacked contracts, worked more than the legal eight hours per day, only had 15-minute lunches instead of half an hour, were not paid for overtime and were not given health benefits.

The factory was ordered closed on February 4 and thoroughly searched. The Jalisco State Secretariat of Labour claimed to have found “120 irregularities in the operation of the company.” But it merely cited:

  • No emergency exit or “effective system for extracting of gases and lint generated by sock making”
  • No safety signs or emergency procedures.
  • Unsanitary dining area and lavatories. “In some areas droppings from animals entering through holes were found”

Though unpleasant, none of that amounted to anything resembling the claims being made earlier in the week.

On February 7 Yes International workers, upset at their factory remaining closed, said that although wages are only between 600 and 700 pesos ($39-$46) a week, they were more worried  about losing their jobs with so few others in the area. They denied receiving any type of labour abuse or harassment, although they acknowledged that the factory barely give them time to eat .

On February 10, Rafael Castellanos, spokesman for  the State Department of Justice (known as the Fiscalia) announced  “The anonymous caller alleged that foreigners were enslaved and that  is not true.”

The company has since been fined 2,800 pesos ($186) for obstructing a factory inspection. Geraldo Rodriguez from the Federal Labour Secretariat said on February 12 the factory would not be allowed to reopen until safety worries about the plant’s boilers had been addressed , but the factory said it was working on that.

No charges have been brought over any of the more lurid allegations – or any evidence offered to support them.