Anti-Sweatshop Movement - Collegiate Apparel Research Initiative (CARI) in Indonesia

The following is the official summary report from the Collegiate Apparel Research Initiative (CARI) in Indonesia. CARI is an immersion program of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) that conducts research and supports partnership building in apparel producing regions around the world. For ten weeks during the summer of 2000, the CARI Indonesia team lived in Jakarta, researching the garment industry and how it affects workers and communities. The team consisted of two students, Deepinder Mayell, a junior at Boston College majoring in Political Science, and Michael Burns, a second-year graduate student at the Labor Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Jessica Champagne, a junior at Yale University, assisted with project design and team orientation. Further information about this project, including full interview transcripts may be found at


Over the last three years the sweatshop movement has rapidly expanded across hundreds of North American college campuses. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), leading what is now the largest student campaign in the US, has lobbied college and university administrations to adopt measures to ensure that collegiate licensed apparel is produced using sound labor practices: in clean and healthy factories, with reasonable hours and decent pay, and with the freedom for workers to organize and bargain collectively. This work has focused on creating Codes of Conduct, which regulate the conditions under which collegiate licensed apparel is produced, and affiliating schools with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) to verify Code compliance. The WRC model is predicated on involving local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) most familiar with the relevant worker concerns. It is this larger context that shaped our research design.

We had a number of objectives in Indonesia: to build and strengthen a network of contacts between USAS and Indonesian NGOs, unions, students and workers, particularly those focused on the garment industry; to evaluate NGOs in terms of suitability for monitoring purposes; to share our experiences with Indonesian students; to learn about why and how Indonesian student groups have built ties with labor unions; to obtain first-hand knowledge of the conditions in collegiate apparel factories; and to investigate how garment production impacts workers and communities.

In order to develop effective solutions to the sweatshop problem, it is critical to study the complex local, national, and international dynamics that create and perpetuate sweatshop conditions. As we move towards enforcement of collegiate Codes of Conduct, we must understand how the locally-based verification model can and should operate. Interviewing potential NGO partners is an important part of this process. In an attempt to address these interrelated issues as they relate to garment production in Indonesia, our research and this report have two central components: examining the factory and living conditions of garment workers and investigating which local organizations can most effectively facilitate monitoring and verification of US-based collegiate Codes of Conduct.

Indonesia is in a period of transition and enormous change. As Indonesia emerges from the Suharto era and consolidates democratic institutions, it is clear that Indonesia is an experiment the world is watching. This new era means different things to different groups but will certainly impact the garment industry, and therefore collegiate production conditions.

For students, Democratic reforms mean access to ideas and texts that were once suppressed. Pro-worker and pro-reform demonstrations have been met with less fatal, though still violent, police reaction. The new Indonesia is nonetheless reliant on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to fill in where the Government has abandoned its citizens. For unions, the challenges of the future will be taking advantage of now-freed leaders like Muchtar Pakpahan and Dita Sari, creating and soliciting education and training programs, and building organizations staffed and funded by workers. These challenges, given the state of the unions we have visited in during our stay, will take decades of tireless work. Workers will only be able to see a 21st Century free of brutal exploitation if existing policies that leave them without protection from discrimination, abuse, and arbitrary firing are transformed. Our analysis looks at some of the work being done to confront these issues, especially in the context of the garment sector.

Project Design

This report focuses on four main groups in the Indonesian labor movement: individual workers, Non-Governmental Organizations, unions, and student organizations.

Worker Home Visits and Surveys; Based on the disclosure information provided by universities, we set up homestays with collegiate apparel factory workers. In addition, we conducted a written survey of 123 questions given to 23 workers. These surveys were designed to learn about factory conditions, wages, living expenses, and experiences with monitors, unions, NGOs, and students.

Union Profiling. This section reports the findings from our interviews with unions, about their experiences dealing with worker complaints and their interactions with NGOs and other unions. These questions are particularly important when considering verification and monitoring relationships.

NGO Profiling; In Indonesia there are a number of NGOs that deal with issues affecting factory workers. We surveyed and interviewed nine of these NGOs. We asked them questions about their work, their objectives, their previous experiences responding to worker complaints, their staffing capacities, and their relationships with other local organizations. This information can be used to assist the selection of local verification partners.

Sharing Experiences with Students. In several meetings we spoke to students formally and informally about what is happening in this unique period of Indonesian history. We asked them to share specific details about how and why students are working with unions and workers in the pursuit of common goals. This section also describes the student anti-sweatshop and other movements in the US, and proposes ways the two movements can support one another.

Worker Home Visits and Surveys

From the disclosure information provided to American universities, we learned where several collegiate apparel factories were located. From conversations with unions and NGOs we were able to locate additional factories. We arranged to meet with collegiate apparel factory workers and live in their homes for a week. During this period we conducted an oral survey of 123 questions designed to obtain information on factory conditions, wages and purchasing power, and experiences with monitors, unions, NGOs, and students. Since we were living in homestays, we were able to witness firsthand the impacts of factory work on these workers and their families.


The survey consists of 123 questions requesting quantitative and qualitative information pertaining to factory life. While we designed the survey to be given orally, due to time constraints and the lack of adequate translation, workers filled out a seventy-question abbreviated survey. Our goal was to ask a consistent set of questions that could give us a snapshot of life for each worker. We made sure not to approach workers near the factories because we did not want to make workers vulnerable to retaliation by factory management.

We conducted our surveys at SBSI meetings where workers were being trained on union rights and collective bargaining. Our strategy for survey distribution was to meet with workers in a group meeting at a central office, leave surveys there for workers to complete, and to pick them up several weeks later. We met with and left surveys for workers at the Rawamangun central SBSI office in East Jakarta, the SBSI branch office in North Jakarta, a SPSI central office in Central Jakarta, a PMBB office in Serang, and an SBSI branch office in Tangerang. In addition, we interviewed workers in their homes in North Jakarta, Tangerang, and Bekasi. In total we handed 70-80 surveys directly to workers after brief discussions with them about the factories. We left another 70-80 surveys for additional workers. In total, we received 30 completed surveys.

We should mention several research difficulties and potential biases before presenting the data. First, not all workers answered all of the questions and in some instances the answers that were provided did not directly pertain to the question we asked. Unanswered questions were not aggregated into percentages and totals. Secondly, by distributing surveys at SBSI meetings we were not operating in completely neutral territory. SBSI is a union with an agenda. Workers who were at the meeting were potentially more politicized and aware of Indonesian law than other Indonesian workers. Finally, the survey sample is small. This makes it difficult to compare the conditions in one factory to the conditions in another. Rather, the data point to larger trends that are prevalent in Indonesia's garment sectors.

Similarly, the data corroborate our understanding of the garment industry based on informal conversations with groups of Indonesian garment workers. We should point out that in addition to these surveys we had numerous informal discussions with workers and groups of workers regarding working conditions at apparel factories, including collegiate apparel factories. Many of these discussions proved as informative as the formal surveys. Though corporations have adopted Codes of Conduct promising a base level of standards and principles, our interviews showed us that in many instances, in the industry at large and in collegiate apparel, in general, these principles have not been upheld.

Survey Results

Workers filled out 30 surveys, 23 of which were fully completed. Though this number of surveys is not statistically significant, we belief that like our interviews, these surveys shed light on factory life, worker attitudes, and management violations. The workers came from PT Konaan, PT Pan Brothers, Dong One, Kharisma, PT Bailihides, PT Dada Indonesia and Busana Rama (For aggregate survey data to all 123 questions see Appendix A.)

The majority of the workers who responded, 74 percent, were female with an average age of 23.4 years old. Most were not married. These workers are 48 percent Javanese. The rest are Sudanese, Lampung, Jeiwa, and Sumatran. They come from all over of Indonesia. Many of them came with the explicit goal of working in these export factories. On average, workers reported working 10.1 hours per day. All stated that they work overtime, averaging 22 hours of weekly overtime. Eighteen of 23 workers stated that they had worked everyday for 7 consecutive days.

With regard to factory conditions, a few workers stated that factories had a lot of and; were dirty with; too much dust and;, unclean; or unhealthy; More than half stated that on-the-job accidents were common. Twenty-two workers claimed that when they cannot fulfill a target or when they make mistakes they receive warning letters and are disciplined. Eighteen indicated that they were verbally or physically abused on the job.

With regards to pay, 21 workers said that when they received their jobs, the pay policies were not explained to them. Eighty-nine percent of respondents believed they were not well-paid and 95% were not satisfied with the amount of money they were paid. More than half believed their paycheck was not fairly calculated. A number of workers did not understand the deductions withheld from their paychecks. Most were given a quota that they had to complete, 81% believed the quota was too high and many were penalized or reprimanded when they did not complete their quotas. Nevertheless, half of the respondents sent money to their families or friends at least some of the time. Most were unable to put a portion of their paycheck towards savings. While 22 of 23 workers stated that their pay went up when the minimum wage was raised, 100% said they were not able to buy more because prices of transportation, rent, and other basics were increasing. 68% stated that they wanted to continue their schooling but that money was the obstacle preventing them. They cited the long hours and low pay as features of their experience that they wanted American students to know about. The majority said they do not always have enough money to properly feed their families.

Living Conditions of Factory Workers

The factories in North Jakarta and Tangerang are all located on a main road. Down unpaved roads 2-3km off of this main road there are houses extending in all directions. From 6:30 to 8 am and from 5 to 9 pm these streets are packed with buses, motorcycles, smoke, food, shouting, Islamic music, and thousands of workers. Looking out into a group of 50 women you might very well see no more than three of the same factory uniform.

Many of these workers and their families live in clusters of single floor tenements. Perhaps twelve houses consisting of 2 small 10x10 rooms face each other in 2 rows of 6 with a paved walk way in between them. Things like mandis (washing basins) along with burners, trunks, sandals and shoes, and cats or caged birds line this inner walkway. It leads to a concrete toilet, washing stall, and well at either end of the cluster. The rooms, or, in several cases a single room, typically have plastic tile floors, a shelf, 2-3 cabinets, a dish rack with cups and plates, a coat rack, a television, a collection of tapes, 1-2 fans, a small light, a calendar, and often, photos of Soekarno, the revered first President of Indonesia. During our stay there was never food was never stored or prepared in the house. Some clusters were covered by warehouse-like roofs. Because there is no lighting, the roofs keep them completely dark after sunset.

Our hosts purchased meals for us for approximately Rp 1000 per person per meal. A typical factory worker makes about Rp 10,000 per day. Both the morning meal and the other 2 meals consist of the same types of foods. Some common dishes are tempeh, fried rice with egg, white rice with egg and chili relish, noodles with spices and vegetables, fried noodles with soy sauce and vegetables, fried chicken, deep fried onions in batter, deep fried bananas and or fried tofu with bean sprouts.


We asked unions a variety of questions about their experiences dealing with worker complaints and about their interactions with NGOs. We also discussed the politics between them and other unions. We have a base list of questions plus a few additional questions that we asked of several unions. These can be found in appendix B.

Above all, we learned that Indonesian unions are operating in uncharted territory. They are struggling to create a strong labor movement with real power for workers. Some of their goals include: substantial labor law reform; allowing union members, rather than external finding sources, to finance their unions; demilitarization of anti-union forces; coalition-building of like-minded organizations; wide-spread trainings on workers; rights; and expansion of their international ties. While the situation is hopeful, the road ahead is long. Unions are severely under-funded and understaffed. In some cases, resources are insufficient even to maintain a small office. Meanwhile, aided by a sympathetic bureaucracy, employers regularly ignore existing labor laws with impunity. From these interviews, we learned that a successful labor movement is made up of a number of units working together towards a common cause. Currently, in Indonesia these units are struggling for a voice and for a coherent identity in a changing county. They are fighting for the confidence of the workers in many sectors of the economy.

Front National Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia (FNBPI): FNPBI is a one year old federation, founded in 1998 after the breakdown of the Suharto regime. Comprised largely of students, it now has 13 branches. Two of its primary goals are the improvement of wages and an increase in worker democracy.

Our goal is to increase wages for workers 100% which is our big campaign- that workers deserve this kind of thing instead of the current wage; results of the economic crisis. We think the government should do this and we refuse the increase of an average of 25% been implemented. Daily needs have gone up nearly 100% along with government refusal to provide fuel and electricity subsidies. In our calculation the new wages will only cover 50% of the very, very minimum costs of the workers. There is so much manipulation in the government numbers. The are so many problems with the minimum wage.

They believe workplace democracy is an integral component to political democracy: In order to know if you have a democracy or not, you have to see if there is democracy among the workers. Looking at the government doesn't tell you if you have a democracy.

GSBI: GSBI is a federation, comprised of a trade unions from different sectors. It has a 10,000 worker membership, 4000 of which are footwear workers and 3000 of which are garment and textile workers. In discussing the record of Western corporations, Emily Yanti from GSBI stated:Nike, Reebok and Levis have ethic codes, codes of conduct. However, these companies do not socialize the ethics to their workers properly. Therefore many workers are unaware that their ethics and rules and codes govern the subcontractors for each factory. For example two Indonesian subcontractors,; Sandrafin and Ulinda, Öpaid under the minimum wage and they also worked employees 75 hours per week and many other rights were not given to workers, for example, social security and rights for pregnant women to get leave. It happened once before that a woman laborer had a miscarriage in the factory.

Perbupas: Perbupas is a collection of ten local and factory level trade unions. It focuses on footwear and footwear accessory production. It is one of the GSBI federation unions. In discussing the minimum wage, Perbupas stated, When prices were skyrocketing and there was an increase in minimum wage, the price for rental houses and the prices for daily needs rose as well so therefore the raise in minimum wage was nothing special, it didn't help them more. They believe a living wage would be Rp 370,000/month. This stands in contrast with the actual amount that many workers receive, which varies widely but is most often far below this. When asked if they thought students are important in improving worker conditions they said, Yes, I think they are very important. We need the students to push the government.They described why organizing in Indonesia is particularly difficult:

Where there is such high unemployment and competitiveness between workers, the workers are so afraid of losing what they have and having to compete again. This has a psychological impact on the workers. They are afraid of losing their job. The management actually stops organizing, they hate new trade unions because for 32 years the Suharto regime controlled trade unions with one single trade union. They consider trade unions a pest to the factory. Intimidation through dismissal and suspensions still happens to our own co-workers.;

SBSI: SBSI was founded in April of 1992 as an independent union in opposition to the only officially recognized union, SPSI. SBSI was integrally involved in the protests that led to the toppling of the Suharto regime. SBSI currently has 13 sectors (journalism, transportation, metal industry, forestry, banking, chemical, hotel, mining, educating, contracting, garment/textile, migrant workers, and street performers/artists). SBSI is one of the largest and most influential independent trade unions in Indonesia and has attained international attention, especially, with the arrest, imprisonment, and eventual release of SBSI's president, Muchtar Pakpahan. SBSI works well with local NGO's and considers them vital for worker advocacy. Patvan Samosir of SBSI stated,

"During the Suharto regime, only one trade union existed, SPSI, and it was created by the government, so they were not working for the laborers attention but instead for the government and sometimes the employer. So this is why it was very important to create one independent trade union."

"About two months ago we had a campaign in Europe especially against Adidas because their salaries are particularly bad. If there is a large gain in profits by the company there is no balance between the profits and the salaries of workers. So especially companies like Adidas, Nike, and others we want to force them give salaries based on life needs not according to the minimum wage but instead according to their living costs."


There were two reasons why we surveyed NGOs in West Java. First, we hoped that because these organizations were involved with worker training, education, and support, that they could provide us with an informed analysis of the evolving worker situation in Indonesia. Second, we hoped they could inform US Code of Conduct verification efforts that center on the role of independent local NGOs.

The results of our interviews with NGOs provide valuable information about the role of these organizations. As might be expected, NGOs work on many of the issues facing Indonesia: health and welfare of its people, concerns regarding the IMF and World Bank, foreign debt, widespread environmental degradation, military repression of labor conflicts, ethnic fighting and massacres, and an unstable government. Many of these issues are intertwined with sweatshops and have effects on workers in Indonesia. These interviews place worker concerns in the context of the larger political economy.

Profiling NGOs is necessary for evaluating potential verification partners. After surveying and interviewing the NGOs and compiling details about each organization, such as usual work, past experience responding to workers complaints, staffing capacities, and relationships with other organizations in Indonesia, it is possible to offer suggestions for verification partnering groups. In considering verification, we consider the following questions:

-Is this NGO comfortable with and experienced with interviewing, surveying, and talking with workers about their working conditions?

-What role does the NGO feel unions can or should have in the process of improving working conditions?

-Does this NGO staff understand the subtle details of the garment industry including how products are made, different job classifications in factories, and common problems and hardships faced by workers on the job?

-Does this NGO have a good reputation among other groups, including other NGOs, and independent, grassroots labor unions, in its geographical area?

We feel that the strength of a worker's complaint is further legitimized by the confirmation of an qualified investigatory organization. While other organizations, such as unions, are capable of objectivity, their loyalties may make them susceptible to accusations of partiality or fabrication. To avoid this, we strongly recommend the use of local research NGOs as monitors whenever possible.

While we had heard of some organizations before our arrival in Indonesia, via activists and organizations that have regular contact with the US, some we discovered here. The NGOs we chose are not the only NGOs working on labor issues in or around Jakarta, but they are some of the most highly esteemed with respect to factory issues in concentrated industrial areas. Interview questions can be found in Appendix C.

After the each NGO interview, we wrote evaluations, which are printed below along with interesting quotes from our interviews. Full interview transcripts for each NGO are available at NGO contact information is available at the end of the report. Below are some excerpts from those transcripts.

Akatiga: Akatiga is involved in many research projects in conjunction with a number of other NGOs. While Akatiga does not attempt to organize workers or act as a union, their research and practical worker rights trainings are designed to build a workers movement with real bottom up power. Akatiga is prestigious and financially stable. They also have substantial experience interviewing and surveying workers in a manner that respects worker safety and achieves meaningful results. For these reasons Akatiga has garnered respect in West Java. It has the capacity, experience and esteem to assist with verification of factory conditions.

Michael One thing that we hear from people in the US is that if the workers get too loud in their fight to improve conditions that the factories will close and move to other counties- is this why factories close or are their other reasons?

Akatiga No. In the Indonesian context, especially in these last 6 months, there was a presidential decree declaring the right to organize. Several companies threatened to close down their factories and move God knows where. However at present none of them have carried it out. Here, if there is an investor moving out of Indonesia, it is not because the workers are fighting, but because counties that are becoming more capitalist like Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, and China, are opening the gates to foreign investors, they can provide much cheaper labor compared to Indonesia. So in my opinion the main reason why they move is to get the highest revenue possible, because the main base in Vietnam is lower than Indonesia and anyway these other governments are making incentives for investors to invest in the country.

APIK: This organization specializes in research and advocacy surrounding women's issues. Specifically, APIK informs women workers of their reproductive rights, including issues of wage discrimination based on gender, as well as pregnancy and menstruation entitlements. They also uncover instances of sexual harassment. APIK does this through forums that are run independent of company management. They are members of KPKB and thus have synchronized their agenda accordingly. Their focus is on monitoring and enforcing codes of conduct, especially in the footwear sector.

APIK Many factories still disobey menstruation rights and pregnancy rights. In fact, they overturned the law and pushed the women workers to agree not to take any leave. They are force to sign something when they first get to the company, to not take their menstrual leave and also that they should not get pregnant for 2 years. It is called a work agreement. If a woman is found pregnant she is not prioritized to work at the factory.

ELSAM: ELSAM views worker rights as a type of human rights. In our interview, they expressed concern regarding the role America has played and continues to play in Indonesia's development process. ELSAM cited minimum wage figures for areas outside of Jarbotabek, including Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang, and Bekasi. ELSAM has also contributed to the publishing of many books on human and workers; rights. They have extensive experience discussing factory conditions with workers and in providing them with education and training regarding the factories. Finally, they work with students and respect cooperative worker action. This organization may be a good candidate for verification efforts.

ELSAM The most important problem is the minimum wage. It can be as low 93; Rp 5700 per day. In the outskirts of Jakarta some factories pay less than 5700, in East Java or Medan in Sumatra it could be even less than 5700. If a worker asks for an increase they'll be dismissed. In Jakarta some are only giving 5700; 7500 according to their studies. The workers are demanding more, some workers are paid only 3000, these workers are fighting for 7500. Some company owners put transportation and food into the wage to add up to 7500.;

INFID: In our discussion with INFID, Mr. Bahagijo framed his analysis within an international and historical context. He emphasized the role of the IMF and World Bank in Indonesian economic and social development. The organization aspires towards formation of a movement that questions the priorities and motivations of the global investment community. Since INFID's works at a policy level and does not come into regular contact with workers, their strengths do not include Code of Conduct verification.

Michael What are some common things- reforms and austerity programs- that the IMF insists Indonesia do?;

Mr. Bahagijo ìOf course thereís privatization, subsidy reductionÖ and like before they argue surplus of the budget- during the hardest time the government said, yes yes yes. But privatization is going on now along with subsidy reduction. We agree with subsidy reduction for the rich. It should be revoked, but for poor people it should be maintained. Because of the simple fact that UNICEF say we will have a list generation- dozens of millions of Indonesians- because their parents lost their jobs. These dozens of millions will be malnourished and undereducated so we will have a threat of a lost generation who are stupid who are physically week, not capable of competing in the job market. That's UNICEF saying that, not me.;

LBH Bandung: Because LBH Bandung is a legal advocacy organization, we do not recommend them for local monitoring or verification efforts. The discussion with LBH Bandung touched on issues of living wage and worker advocacy. LBH Bandung alerted us to several new issues including the centralized nature of the legal process, bribery at all levels of government, and Indonesia's growing interest in progressive and radical politics.

LBH Bandung There's one happy piece of news, workers are starting to see themselves as workers with rights. No one can keep it a secret any more, not as involvement of NGOs on the national or international level, with the students and with NGOs. They are understanding of the capitalist system. Marxism. They have read such things here. They are eager to study further but they have no access to newspapers and books; if only there was a way to help form the students, LBH, or other NGOs.

LBH Jakarta: LBH is a central hub for worker advocacy. The organization spends the bulk of its time consulting with workers and working though a legal process that is often tedious and long. The discussion with Mr.Tiandra was informative, especially concerning wages. Tiandra believes the living wage in Jakarta currently hovers at approximately Rp 10,000/day, a commonly cited figure. He offered comments pertaining to unemployment and the types of problems that workers face. He offered the names of several organizations that he believed could work on Code of Conduct monitoring or verification, though he did not cite his own organization. Though they have time and staffing constraints, there is no reason to rule them out as a candidate for Code verification, especially considering their substantial expertise and intimate knowledge of workers; most serious job problems.

LBH Jakarta In Nike factories in Tangerang they always claim that they pay more than the minimum wage- the claim this- about Rp 330,000 but the problem is what the worker really needs in much more than that wage. So that's a problem. So its not really a big deal, actually, even if you get paid 30,000 more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage is about Rp 10,000 a day now with the rupiah at 8600. Before the crisis it was 6000 with the rupiah at Rp 2700 in 1997.

Sisbikum: is involved in a variety of projects, produce materials in English, and are networked to several other groups. They are popular among other garment worker NGOs. Tim Ryan of the AFL-CIO'S Solidarity Center office in Jakarta described Sisbikum as a kind of workers' communications forum; which comprises, at last count, workers in 10 factories, some of whom are unionized, some of whom are not.; Their willingness to cooperate and share ideas was evident through our interactions with them on more than one occasion. Sisbikum has an understanding of independent monitoring and an opinion of what good and bad monitoring consists of. They have been affiliated with the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Though not ideal, their capability is promising as a monitoring or verification partner.

Sisbikum It is like a suicide, you know? With the wage nowadays. It is like a suicide. The standard regional wage is only Rp 280,000. So, Rp 280,000 per month mean 9500 per day, barely $1.1. Actually, the normal level of, ah, people to live in a day, they have to spend Rp 28,000. That's about $3. $3.25 US.

UCM: UCM sets high standards regarding groups that claim to help workers, including itself. While their research and work is admirable, personal disagreements made collaborative work difficult. Cooperation and trust are necessary criteria when it comes to international solidarity work and independent monitoring. The fact that this organization lacked these qualities made them an unfavorable choice for verification work.

WALHI: This NGO specializes in environmental issues. Because of their focus, the interview centered on the ecological impacts of factories, rather than on working conditions. Because of WALHI's specialty, we do not recommend WALHI as a verification candidate. Nevertheless, WALHI offers a broader analysis that helps contextualize how factories affect communities.

Deepinder Many people say that sweatshops and factories are good for Indonesia because they provide jobs- what do you say to that?

WALHI In the sort term it's true. In the short term. But in the long run in so many factories we see health quality decreasing and life quality decreasing. For example the Orian case. The company has 6000 workers but their activity affected 200,000 people and if they continue to operation it will suffer at least 3 or 4 generations because of the decrease in the environment quality.

Student Groups

In these meetings we spoke formally and informally with students about this unique period in Indonesia's history. In addition, we discussed how and why students are working with unions and workers in the pursuit of common goals. We also described student movements in the US, such as the anti-sweatshop movement, and how we can support each other.

Student groups in Indonesia are in a stage of transition. After the mass unification of power that the student groups experienced with the fall of Suharto, the political climate in the country cooled considerably. There are cases of occasional violence and political instability. The majority of the country is not as unified behind the student movement as it was in 1998 as the Suharto regime toppled. The student groups are focusing their criticism towards the corruption in the newly formed government. Even though the students do not have as much support as before, they are still active in fighting for their goals. The student groups are a vocal part of the political community, often staging demonstrations. They are regarded as a voice pushing for reform. They are also addressing problems associated with international financial institutions, similar to the US groups but with a clearer view of leftist ideology.

Indonesian student groups are not closely affiliated with the labor struggle in their own country. They are fighting parallel but non-unified battles. However, some groups like FNPBI, connect workers; fights with students; fights in the pursuit of social change. All student groups are vital in the establishment of grassroots ties and can provide USAS and other groups in the US with first-hand experience and knowledge about the international situation. As more US students become aware of global problems, ties with Indonesian student groups will provide a network of direct information.

Dita Sari, a prominent student leader says that the most significant change we have here today is now we have more spaces to operate to set up trade unions, especially at the plant level. And now we also have more chance to set up a union on the national level. Before Suharto went down, it was only one federation that was allowed to be set up, that was the federation of all Indonesian Trade Unions, SPSUI which was very much co-opted by the ruling party at the time.; However, despite the very different political climate, Dita Sari does not see a shift in the economic regime. I don't see any changes or any significant difference economically. Even though the nominal figure is going up, the cutting of subsidies for oil and such means that the meaning of the wage is going down; She characterizes the incipient labor movement as competitive based on economic, political and personal interests, rather than cooperative. Nonetheless, she foresees that unions will be the significant powers in the future.

General Findings: Forms of Exploitation

This section examines some of the ways, based on our research and conversations, that companies and governments contribute to worker exploitation in Indonesia. It should be noted that we can only speak with authority in regards to the situations of garment manufacturing workers. Some of the factors that contribute to this are deploying the military on striking workers, requiring or coercing excessive overtime, offering perverse incentives for workers to ignore their rights, dumping chemicals that endanger health, and maintaining a large short-term workforce.

The Indonesian military has a frequent role in labor conflict "settlement." Although this practice, according to some of our interviews, is less frequent now, it is not completely gone, nor are the memories of strikes and picket lines were workers were killed for standing with their fellow workers. Ministry of Manpower officials have often come from military backgrounds where workers are expected to be unconditionally loyal and always obedient or ready to face the harsh consequences. As the Legal Aid Institute Bandung representative told us, historically companies; relationships with government forces were solidified by a shadow fee that ensured protection from labor stoppages and unrest.

Overtime is carefully arranged and implemented as to make it essentially, while not officially, forced. Workers regular wages per hour are set so low that, in order to earn something close to a decent wage, they must work overtime;which, according to the workers we surveyed, averages about 20 hours more a week. Several pay stubs that we collected indicate that these 20 overtime hours often amounts to nearly as much pay, and sometimes more, than the 40-50 hours of regular-hour pay for a given pay period. In addition to this financial pressure, if workers decide to not work overtime there is evidence that they will be warned, then fired.

The pay system presents perverse incentives for workers to ignore their rights. This can be seen through close examination of pay stubs. For example, workers have a menstrual leave line listed on the stub. At one factory, if they decided to exercise their right to take their leave the line was left blank, while if they did not opt for the leave there was Rp 50,000 added to their total pay. Additionally, workers may lose their attendance bonus for taking their rightful menstrual leave even for one day. On one pay stub, the total lost was nearly Rp100,000 out of a check that was potentially only about 400,000.

Workers are also affected by chemical dumping at the factories. While a worker may not feel the effects while they are at work, the river, canal, and water systems are often all interconnected and dumping of dies and chemicals in one area creates a traceable trail of pollution into village water supplies. Of course, everyone living in these communities or using these waterways is affected by the dumping, not only workers.

The contract system is another very important way in which workers are left powerless. When workers begin work at a factory, they are required to sign contracts. These contracts are often for only a single year and serve several purposes for the employer. First, the contract allows employers to quickly adjust their workforce to the size of their orders coming in, without regard for an individual workers needs. Second, it gives the employer an opportunity to not renew contracts of workers who try to improve conditions in the factory, workers who are experienced and perhaps not as docile, and workers who are pregnant or who want to start a family, as they may be less productive. Third, it helps the employer avoid having to pay benefits and extend privileges to "permanent" employees who have certain rights under the law that contract or temporary workers do not. For example, to fire a permanent worker requires a process unavailable to contract workers. Several groups like Akatiga and FNPBI identified the contract system as one of the most necessary reforms needed to improve the situation of workers.

Of course these are just some examples of what's happening on the ground to suppress workers' rights. Other abuses such as the lack of company facilities, inadequate subsidies, verbal abuse, unrealistic performance standards, and, of course, inadequate wages, companies are often successful in their attempt to exploit and discard workers, while governments are able to sustain desperately needed jobs.


The following are recommendations to United Students Against Sweatshops and to anti-sweatshop activists in general. We are looking to address not only strategies to fight sweatshop connections on campuses, but what USAS and other activists can do to strengthen the larger movement for corporate accountability.

1. We must create a plan to go along with our sentimentality. Too often activists talk about solidarity but do not know what to do about it. Generating an implementable strategy prepares the road for change. It is important also to think about future projects in terms of practical result: specifically, whether and how a proposed project will lead to improving conditions.

We need to focus our attention more on the governmental role in perpetuating sweatshop abuses. Governments work together with companies to keep workers powerless and to keep investment flowing in. Unfortunately, workers' human rights are sacrificed in the process for the benefit of government and business elites. International attention on governments that promote an environment where sweatshops can flourish and prosper will help workers and their allies fight to establish a base level of fair treatment. Government attention is not only necessary for countries abroad, but also for our own, which has historically played and continues to play a role in supporting repressive government regimes.

We should continue to push for widespread adoption of the WRC, the most appropriate monitoring system available to enforce schools' Codes of Conduct. It is crucial that students and schools carry out our promises and our threats, so as to avoid prolonging ties with companies and subcontractors who continue to violate workers rights.

USAS should facilitate distribution of information between US NGOs and organizations in apparel producing regions. Facilitating communication will strengthen USAS'; ties to workers and will increase communication among workers and worker groups in producing regions around the world.

For reasons examined in this report, we recommend that the WRC and other monitoring efforts not rely solely on unions as independent monitors.

We must continue to draw connections between the corporate unaccountability that perpetuates sweatshops and the other forms of exploitation and objectification of workers that exist here and abroad. Broadening our analysis to include the values and positions that lie at the core of sweatshop abuse will ensure that we do not inadvertently limit reform to just one aspect of a much larger problem. As Dita Sari advised the students in the US, we must "be consistent."

USAS and other organizations should continue to send long-term delegations to other counties like they did in this summer (2000) to Honduras and Indonesia. International solidarity is not just about sharing information, but about building personal relationships. If we want to coordinate actions, protests, and events, and build a communication or exchange network with activists abroad, we need personal contacts. Attempting this work through short-term delegations makes it very hard if not impossible to build the necessary trust for what we're trying to accomplish on the international level.

We should make presentations in classes at our colleges and universities. Professors and TAs are interested in our movement not only because such movement for social change are such important parts of college life, but because they are real, live debates with real consequences to be discussed. Students that have begun to do this on the campus have seen remarkable results. Additionally, preparing and making presentations at high schools is an invaluable addition to a young person's education, an education which normally fails to include any substantial critique of American companies or government, nor any account of current of social movements or activism.

Finally, we highly recommend that activists find new and creative ways to get together and spend time together, even live together when possible. The ability to develop an analysis of anything, not just social justice movements, is magnified when you are immersed with other activists. This is not a conventional recommendation, but we strongly feel, after spending so much time questioning and learning from each other, that proximity to like-minded people can yield unpredictable results.

More than Profit: The social causes of sweatshops

By, Deepinder Mayell

USAS students spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince other Americans that sweatshops exist. While in Indonesia, we have been able to detach ourselves from this mindset and entertain the fundamental question: why do sweatshops exist? In addition to the profit motive, there are social structures that contribute to the creation of exploitative sweatshop conditions.

After talking to many Indonesian factory workers, students, service workers, union, and NGO leaders, it is clear that many Indonesian people suffer from the detrimental effects of racism. As our conversations with Indonesians become more informal we have begun to hear comments such as, ;You are more handsome than me,; I wish my skin was white,; ;Indonesian people are ugly,; and Your clothes look better on you.; Many Indonesians that we met felt inferior when compared to Americans, particularly white Americans. Indonesians are exposed to a huge amount of western media. They watch television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, where rich white Americans are depicted as the most interesting and important class in the world. These media portrayals have had a tremendous effect on the way the Indonesian mindset, but is not the only force contributing to these feelings of inferiority.

In America, racism is often conceived of as simply holding negative pre-conceptions about a group of people based on ethnicity or race. We are taught the history of the Civil Rights Movement as how an oppressive class was shown that racism is wrong, that one should not judge on the basis of color. We learn about lone black fighters such as Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr standing up and fighting for equal rights. But we are not taught about the legions of activists who fought for their rights.

This history does not address the effects that racism has had on the majority of the oppressed class. In high school, we do not study how the mentality of an oppressed class changes when they are constantly told they are inferior. We do not learn that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr's greatest challenges were convincing black Americans of their value and that their system has created their suffering. We do not learn about those black Americans who have been taught from their youth that white faces are more successful, happier, more important, more worthy of their rights. We do not learn that the minority class still is a victim of a racist culture. This internalized racism, this feeling of inadequacy is the actual effect of racism.

A similar internalization of racist views is present in Indonesia, as well. Indonesia has been subject to colonialism for hundreds of years as European countries struggled for control of the Spice Islands.; As the colonial powers took control of the economies of countries like Indonesia the sense of inferiority began to form in the people just as it continues today. Because their history has always shown foreigners such as Europeans, and today Americans, as successful, Indonesians begin to associate whiteness or nationality with success. The Indonesian poor work hard within this system to become successful but ultimately cannot succeed because the system is based on and created by eurocentric structures. Indonesian people may work 70-80 hours per week but the system is structured so that they are simply a colonial provider and their labor is a resource we exploit.

A second social characteristic that may contribute to poverty in Indonesia is a strong sense of community. Although they look at Americans as something to strive to be, they hold on to their cultural ties of community and generosity. Within the capitalist system these community-focused ideals are not rewarded. The workers we have stayed with have shocked us with their generosity and I find myself feeling safer here in Jakarta than I do in New York. The capitalist society does not put value on morals such as honesty, integrity, or wisdom. Instead it values the material possession of money no matter how it is attained. Americans look up to and read books and magazines about celebrities and royalty. In Indonesia there are strong ties to religion, Islam; money is not the end goal. There are, of course, many Indonesians who have the capitalist mindset, who work with foreign imperialists, achieving success at the cost of their fellow Indonesians. These Indonesians have become the corrupt government officials, military or upper-class business owners. Indonesian policy involves capitalist integration into the world economy. However, the majority of people in the country, the poor, still consider their fellow humans to be their brothers and sisters, regardless of race, class, or religion. Despite these economic forces, Indonesia's poor continue to define success; through this sense of community.

This sense of racial inferiority is no doubt disempowering. Perhaps it contributes to the willingness of Indonesia's poor to endure such harsh occupational conditions.

Promoting Unionism versus Enforcing Codes: A False Dichotomy

By, Michael Burns

What does international solidarity mean? What can we do from the states to aid garment workers? Are collegiate Codes of Conduct meaningful in the long run or do they actually distract from worker empowerment?

Students, activists and others concerned with the sweatshop problem need to recognize that unionization is a necessary step in the fight against sweatshops. Ideally, governmental reforms to ensure basic health, safety, organizing, and wage assurances would supplement a strong labor movement. However, how do we promote this stance, this conviction towards unionization? Steering away from monitoring efforts and only supporting unions is not a worthwhile project for USAS. We need to support both. We feel this way for several reasons.

First, students are already conditioning their Codes on the right to organize and bargain collectively. We are doing so, of course, to ensure that codes of conducts are not replacing unions and operating in repressive regimes. If we want to get serious about this provision, we need to identify companies and subcontractors that directly or indirectly violate this code requirement and prepare to take action.

Second, we think USAS should be realistic about its capabilities. We are one of the strongest student groups in American history. We are capable, as a network of affiliated organizations with shared goals, of a high level of coordinated response to problems and abuses. We are capable of talking about what changes are necessary, staging demonstrations on our campuses and in public spaces, and lobbying political powers to view human beings as more than a commodity. However, we can only set the stage for workers to take hold of their own destines and to form the collective organizations that will improve their work lives. Our strategy for supporting organizing needs to start on our campuses, by changing the way that products are made and by confronting the violations of schools; Codes of Conduct because this is where we have influence. This can and must be done in order to complement and accelerate any independent union organizing efforts.

Third, simply advocating for a union is not necessarily a good idea. For over 30 years Indonesia, for example, has had a union, a union that takes workers to the beach and on picnics, rather than to the arbitration table. We cannot simply compel companies to recognize a union; or we risk a creating company-controlled entity that is not responsive to workers.

Of course, students concerned that Codes promote a top-down strategy instead of a bottom- up one are correct. If top down changes from the company, however, accelerate the process toward baseline conditions, then I believe this is a positive step. Who knows what workers will be capable of given the space to breathe? Let's let the workers articulate their problems. We must listen attentively and do everything we can to communicate our vision of unionism, and to escalate our fight to the government level. In the meantime, LEt's honor the workers by fighting for at least a base minimum of wages and working conditions however we can. Creating this base will not impede workers in their struggles. It will enable them to take their struggles to the next level.

As we see it, solidarity means, first and foremost, doing something about the problem. We are capable of doing virtually anything, but ultimately, the Indonesian labor movement is something that must live and grow and prosper on its own. We have been lucky enough to see that the Indonesian people are strong enough to take on their own fight. Attacking the problem from every angle possible is where we come in. By doing this, we just might be able to reach an economic base from which to start the more serious discussions that we all hope will take place. Doing all we can, while being clear about our broader vision is where our power lies.



-Boston College and the Movement
-Collegiate Apparel Research Initiative (CARI) in Indonesia
-A Comparative Look: FLA vs. WRC




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