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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 18:41 GMT
Guatemala women 'abused'
Women in Guatemalan market
Tens of thousands of women sew clothes for export
Women working in Guatemala's two largest female-dominated sectors of industry - sewing and household services - suffer from persistent sex discrimination and abuse, human rights campaigners say.

A new report accuses some companies of discriminating against pregnant women in particular - despite codes of conduct adopted by US-based clothing retailers which have contracted the firms.

Women workers are getting a very raw deal in Guatemala

HRW spokeswoman
The group, Human Rights Watch, says that although women are protected from such treatment under Guatemala's labour laws, this is rarely enforced.

It urges the Guatemalan Government to take action to protect its women workers better.

Raw deal

The report highlights conditions for the estimated 60,000 women who sew clothes for sale in the US in export-processing factories or maquilas.

It says that in order to get such a job, women must often reveal whether they are pregnant - either through job applications, in interviews or physical examinations.

"Workers who become pregnant after being hired are often denied the full range of benefits provided for in Guatemalan law. And the maquilas routinely obstruct access to the employee health care system to which they have a right," the report said.
Map of Guatemala

One 27-year old worker who became pregnant said she was fired after factory managers told her she would be unable to work extra hours, or as hard as other employees, and could not be made to stand for long periods.

US-based retailers who have contracts with such factories include Wal-Mart, Liz Claiborne and Lee Jeans.

HRW says all have codes of conduct or terms of engagement that specifically prohibit discrimination.

"Women workers are getting a very raw deal in Guatemala... the labour law has some major gaps and in many cases it's not being enforced anyway. The Guatemalan Government has got to do a better job protecting women workers," said HRW spokeswoman LaShawn R Jefferson.

Child labour

Human Rights Watch also focused on conditions in private households for female workers - the second largest employment sector.

The report said such domestic workers - many coming from Guatemala's historically oppressed indigenous communities - were "frequently subject to sexual assault and other abuses by their employers, had no right to the minimum wage and regulated hours. Many were under 18, or began as adolescents.

"International law requires Guatemala to protect children from the most serious forms of child labour, including work for long hours and employment that puts them at serious risk of sexual abuse," the report said.

See also:

27 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
S Korean companies accused of exploitation
30 May 00 | Americas
IDB highlights poverty in Guatemala
09 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Guatemala
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