VF Corp. poised to expand Caribbean basin sourcing
The Greensboro apparel company VF Corp., which owns Wrangler, Vans, Nautica and North Face among other brands, plans to open a new office in the Miami area to position itself to increase sourcing from Central America and the Caribbean, company spokesman Tim Pittman confirmed April 20.
The story was originally reported in the Charlotte Observer.
‘“Because we are a global manufacturer we have global sourcing teams,’” Pittman said. ‘“Our Central America sourcing team will be opening an office in the Miami metropolitan area. We’ve always been a global company. The goal is to continue our operations even more cohesively.’”
VF owns 15 apparel factories in the Caribbean and Central America, although Pittman said he does not know the exact locations.
Pittman said VF Corp. anticipates opening more factories there if Congress approves the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as CAFTA-DR, which would gradually eliminate tariffs for products traded between the countries. The company supports the trade agreement, and five of its executives were in Washington, DC lobbying US representatives, Pittman said.
CAFTA-DR would create a trading bloc between the United States, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. The agreement was signed by trade representatives of the seven countries in August 2004. Currently, under the Caribbean Basin Initiative trade agreement, 80 percent of goods from the those countries enter the United States duty free. CAFTA-DR would eliminate all tariffs over a period of 10 years.
VF Corp. anticipates that Congress will place new restrictions on textile imports from China, which might result in the company closing factories there and opening new ones in Central America and the Dominican Republic.
Pittman posed the prospect of increased sourcing from the Caribbean basin as a boon to North Carolina textile workers who have watched jobs evaporate over the past decade. He said the factories might import more fabric and yarn from North Carolina producers as they ramp up garment production.
Pittman said VF Corp. supports strict labor standards that regulate working conditions, pay and hours. The company runs its own factories rather than subcontracting so it can maintain accountability for its labor practices, he added.
Though not familiar with VF Corp.’s labor practices in Central America and the Caribbean, Gail Phares of Witness For Peace said she anticipates that CAFTA-DR will undermine working conditions in the member countries and North Carolina as well, much as she said it did here and in Mexico after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Phares is the Southeast regional organizer for Witness For Peace, an organization that monitors human rights conditions in Latin America, and advocates for economic justice.
‘“In Central America, I visited sweatshops in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador,’” she said. ‘“People live in terrible poverty. People sell products in the United States and make tremendous profits at the expense of workers. Those jobs used to pay nine to ten dollars an hour when they were in North Carolina. Now, they’re paying [Latin American workers] three dollars a day.’”
Phares said she anticipates that CAFTA-DR will result in more sweatshops in Central American and the Caribbean and in US agricultural goods flooding local markets and putting farmers out work ‘— which would result in increased immigration.
‘“Right now it’s a race to the bottom for US workers and Latin American workers also,’” she said. ‘“There’s no doubt that Mexicans and Carolinians need good jobs. In Nicaragua, they could pay a living wage, which would be ten or fifteen dollars a day. If workers dare organize they get fired. There’s something wrong with that picture.’”
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