Case #303
Title: Nicarguan Cooperatives: An alternative to Free Trade Zones
Summary: Free Trade Zone operators in Nicaragua enjoy laws that provide them with maximum freedom and benefits. To the average multinational manufacturer for instance, Nicaragua's Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone must seem like heaven on Earth. "When I visited it early one morning in February it looked more like hell, as an amorphous mass of over 20,000 souls (mostly young women) poured into its featureless, prefabricated factories" comments Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. She continues, "Six days a week, 10 hours a day, the workers of the Free Trade Zone are making jeans, shorts and shirts in the vast Taiwanese, Korean, and US owned `Maquillas' (assembling factories). These items are sold through major US retailers and US military stores.

To see non Free Trade Zone examples of production, Ms. Roddick visited a co-operative of sesame seed farmers in the north-west of Nicaragua who community-trade with her company, The Body Shop. From a tentative two tons in 1993, the co-op now supplies 72 tons of sesame oil, an essential ingredient in many of her products. The community trade project began when the farmers approached The Body Shop after world market prices for sesame seed plummeted from $35 to $18 per hundredweight. The deal's guaranteed price and long-term partnership has enabled the co-op farmers to plan and diversify. As well as supporting the farmers, the co-op runs an agricultural merchant's association, has built a school and supports a natural health clinic.
Comments: The Body Shop is by no means the only company supporting such a model, and neither should it be. The point is that alternatives to forced labor, sweatshops and the iniquities of the global economy are already in practice; they are workable. They are real alternatives, and we need more of them - fast.
Location: Nicaragua
Action: Agriculture, Corporate/Economic Abuses, Worker Rights
Setting: Third World, Agricultural
Extent of Action: National
Categories: Agriculture, Corporate/Economic Abuses, Worker Rights
Year(s):
Outcome successful
Source: The Ecologist, June 2001, Vol 31, #5
Contacts: The National Labor Committee www.nlcnet.org
Prepared By: sl 11/3/01
Rating: 1