"Fruit"ful in El Salvador

Textile and Apparel Manufacturers in El Salvador

Map of Country

FIGURE 1:  This map was obtained from theCIA website.  El Salvador borders
Guatemala and Honduras to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the north.
Source of Map: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/es.html


Additional Image 1  

FIGURE 2:  This t-shirt, purchased at the Miami University Bookstore, was manufactured in a Fruit of the Loom plant in El Salvador.


Currently, 250 textile and apparel companies, many of which are American organizations, have factories in the Central American country of El Salvador (Proesa 2005). By focusing on Fruit of the Loom as an example of the numerous other American companies in El Salvador , I will briefly discuss the incentives of such companies for locating in this country, including their economic policies and how they affect the economy of El Salvador and its laborers. I will focus my discussion on the daily life of a typical El Salvadoran and describe family structure, economics, and living standards in the context of the physical environment, history, and economic structure of El Salvador .


Context of El Salvador

El Salvador is located in Central America and borders Guatemala and Honduras to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the north (Figure 1). El Salvador 's climate is tropical with warm temperatures year-round. Precipitation is plentiful with a dry summer season and a wet winter season, and the range of temperatures over the span of one year is 64oF to 90oF. El Salvador also used to be covered in dense, pristine jungle. However, poor farming techniques, exploitation of resources, and the recent civil war have threatened the delicate environment. The diverse animal life of El Salvador also is facing endangerment for the same reasons the plant life is. The mountains also contain many volcanoes, some of which are still active. The seismic and volcanic activity serves as a reminder to the people of El Salvador of the unpredictability of nature. El Salvador has been ravaged by earthquakes and volcanoes in the past, which have served to prolong poor living conditions (Boland 2001).

El Salvador was originally ruled by Spain under which many uprisings against the ruling government occurred. Eventually El Salvador became an independent state through the revolution of a guerrilla army. On January 24, 1859 , the guerrilla army and the Salvadoran army reached a truce and El Salvador earned the status of Sovereign Republic . El Salvador , however, has experienced war with neighboring countries as well as several military coups in which the people of El Salvador rose against militaristic dictatorships (Boland 2001).

Recently, from 1980-1992, El Salvador experienced a brutal, devastating civil war. It was a war started due to religious and political differences among the Salvadoran people, although that is a gross simplification. The civil war was fought between the El Salvadoran military, which received management and funding from the United States , and a guerilla army which was constantly growing and gaining strength. As the war raged on, hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced, leading to lack of access to water, health care, and regular employment for much of the population. Groups of Salvadorans were forced to move as major areas of conflict shifted over the years. In order to avoid being caught in mountain-side battles or urban skirmishes, as many as 500,000 people, or 10% of the population of El Salvador, were displaced by 1987 (Boland 2001). Aid from governmental and non-governmental organizations was present but ineffective at best due to the duration of the war. The war continued over several years and the prolonged mobilization of the population of El Salvador led to poverty as well as a lack of formal education for much of the population. These factors continue to shape the lives of the Salvadoran people today (Binford 2004). At the conclusion of the war in 1992, democracy was established with the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords. This agreement established a separation of legislative, executive, and judiciary power in El Salvador (Boland 2001).

El Salvador has experienced a violent, unstable history which contributes to the way of life in the country today. High rates of poverty and crime ravage both rural and urban communities. The United States Department of State says that crime, both random and organized, is prevalent in El Salvador . Most crimes are theft or robbery, but there are occurrences of kidnappings and ransoming for money, especially with tourists (U.S. Department of State). The last decade, however, provides hope for the future. A democratic government is in place, and proving to be more successful than past governments at maintaining a sense of peace within the country. The economy, due in part to global influences, is growing quickly. Although plagued by an unfortunate, difficult past, the people of El Salvador continue to look to the future with hope.

Due in great part to the number of military conflicts in El Salvador's history, the country is currently going through a delayed industrial revolution. The economy of El Salvador is becoming much more industrialized than in its past, but it is becoming more service-based as well. Agriculture, which represents 15% of El Salvador's gross national product, is an important aspect to the Salvadoran economy, but personal services, ranging from property rentals to entertainment to restaurants, represent 60% of El Salvador's gross national product (Boland 2001). The industrial and service-based aspects of El Salvador's economy may be a direct result of the global economy (Boland 2001). An example of foreign impact on El Salvador's economy is Fruit of the Loom manufacturing plant in El Salvador . Fruit of the Loom is making an investment in the cheap labor of El Salvador economy and with this investment comes American influence. With American companies comes American culture from the Americans working in El Salvador for the factory or company. This American influence is most apparent in cinema, television, and other forms of media (Boland 2001). It is clear that American companies like Fruit of the Loom are impacting the economy of El Salvador as well as other aspects of Salvadoran life.


Brand: Fruit of the Loom

Fruit of the Loom, a leading manufacturer in the apparel industry, prides itself on its promise of quality, value, and trust, to its customers. As a vertically integrated company, Fruit of the Loom controls every step in the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of its products. This includes manufacturing the yarn, fabric, and final products, packaging every product, and distributing its products to retailers. Fruit of the Loom also offers a guarantee on its products under which a customer can exchange a product or receive a full refund if he or she is not fully satisfied with the product (Fruit 2005). Fruit of the Loom also sells apparel in England , France , Italy , Spain , and Germany (Fruit of the Loom 2005). Fruit of the Loom is not controlled or owned by a larger parent company.  Also, in my research I did not find any information identifying any subsidiaries controlled by Fruit of the Loom, leading me to assume Fruit of the Loom does not own any.

One of Fruit of the Loom's key business strategies is low cost manufacturing. As a vertically integrated company, Fruit of the Loom is able to control every aspect of costs, including labor. Although it maintains automated manufacturing facilities in the United Sates for yarn spinning, knitting, dyeing and other low cost activities, Fruit of the Loom has moved a large majority of its garment manufacturing facilities to Mexico , the Caribbean, and Central America, including El Salvador . It is estimated that Fruit of the Loom has saved $150 million annually by moving offshore its manufacturing facilities for labor-intensive work, such as cutting and sewing. By cutting costs so dramatically, Fruit of the Loom is able to increase profit margins while still offering the same quality products (Scripophily 2005).



The population of El Salvador is approximately 6.5 million, with nearly 85% of the population identifying themselves as Catholic. Protestant evangelicalism, however, is spreading throughout the country (Applied Language 2005). Most Salvadorans live in extended families, especially in rural areas (Settlement 2005). The extended family is an adaptive strategy to cope with poverty; family members cannot survive by living in a nuclear family so they pool their resources and depend upon one another for economic and social support (Kottak 2005). Women are generally responsible for child care and housework whereas males are responsible for work and earning income.

In a society where elders are admired for their experience and wisdom, children are raised to respect their parents and elders. Males are encouraged to display machismo, which is toughness and bravery, whereas females are expected to be reserved and mild-mannered (Settlement 2005). These expectations of the roles of males and females are part of the patriarchal lifestyle in El Salvador . With approximately 50% of Salvadorans living in poverty, many men go to the city to find work. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a family to be headed by a woman (Settlement 2005).

The homes of much of the poorer population have pounded dirt floors and are made of various pieces of metal sheeting, wood, and/or plastic. The men in the household typically work while the women raise the children. Most men, however, struggle to find work that pays enough to meet the family's basic needs (Gorkin 2000). Much of the rural population farms, which contributes to the agricultural portion of the economy. The top two commercial crops for export are coffee and sugar, respectively. Other smaller crops such as melons and pineapples are cultivated for exportation. Many crops are grown for internal use as well, including maize, beans, and various tropical fruits (Boland 2001). Although El Salvador 's economy is becoming increasingly industrial and service-based, El Salvador is still considered a developing nation due to many of the effects of the history of military coups and the civil war. Some of the major effects include the high poverty and crime rates and the lack of education of most of the population (Boland 2001).

When a company like Fruit of the Loom comes to El Salvador , it is an opportunity for Salvadorans to find steady employment. El Salvador attracts foreign investors by offering tax exemptions in many designated free trade zones. Companies bring raw materials into the country, use cheap Salvadoran labor to manufacture finished goods, and then export the finished goods, free of any tariffs or income taxes (Esbenshade 2004). The pay and working conditions in these factories meet local standards, which are much lower in El Salvador than in the United States . The minimum wage set by the Salvadoran government is 63 cents per hour, and this wage leaves innumerable families in abject poverty (Proesa 2005). Even when workers are paid above the minimum wage, their earnings are usually only tenths of a percent of the retail value of the goods they produce. I have been unable to recover any data on wages of Salvadoran workers at the Fruit of the Loom factory. In another American-owned factory in El Salvador , though, workers earn 29 cents for each $140 Nike NBA shirt they sew (Wichita Area Globalization Coalition 2005). By taking advantage of lower minimum wages American companies are cutting costs and increasing profit margins. It is this type of exploitation that keeps many Salvadorans from climbing out of the poverty they have known their entire lives. In fact, many workers struggle just to bring food home for their families (Wichita Area Globalization Coalition 2005). About half of the population lives in poverty while a small percentage of the population lives the lifestyle of that in a wealthy United States suburb. Although there are signs of an emerging middle class in El Salvador there remains a large gap between the large population of poor people and the very small population of rich people. Half of the population struggles to survive day to day while a small percentage of Salvadorans live in excess (Settlement 2005).

Most workers in these maquila factories are young women (Wichita Area Globalization Coalition 2005). They typically work at minimum wage or slightly more to produce many of the clothes people in the United States take for granted. For example, I wear my “Miami Broomball” t-shirt about once a week (Figure 2). I paid approximately $13 for the t-shirt and somebody was likely paid less than $1 to sew the shirt. Now that I have discovered what is occurring with companies like Fruit of the Loom, I think about the 20-year-old woman working countless hours in a maquila factory in El Salvador every time I wear the shirt.



I have contacted Fruit of the Loom four times in the past month inquiring about its manufacturing facility in El Salvador . After my fourth email, I finally received a response from an employee of Fruit of the Loom, Inc. who shall remain nameless. I had emailed the company via its website, writing: “I need information on your manufacturing facilities abroad for a paper for a Miami University class. Any information will be helpful.” The reply email I received from the employee stated: “We appreciate your interest but we not give out information on our facilities abroad.” The employee obviously did not reread or edit this email before it was sent because the one sentence reply is missing a word, and this implies a lack of caring and concern for my inquiry. This email immediately made me wonder why Fruit of the Loom does not disclose such information. Is it trying to hide something? Is it worried about security of the facilities? Is it trying to protect its employees abroad? This process of contacting Fruit of the Loom and trying to obtain information about its facilities abroad has been aggravating and demoralizing. I felt helpless and unimportant. Although frustrated in the end, I think my experience with Fruit of the Loom proves how it is very easy for large organizations to avoid addressing major issues such as manufacturing abroad.



Most Salvadoran's live in third-world conditions due to many factors including, but not limited to, historical events like the recent civil war, the weak economy, the physical environment, and exploitation by foreign companies. These factors limit the ability of Salvadorans to pull themselves out of the poverty that encompasses half of the country. Many Salvadoran families are caught in a cycle of poverty where one generation works to overcome the poverty and is unsuccessful, leaving the next generation to try again. The manipulation of Salvadoran workers by Fruit of the Loom and other American companies only prolongs the widespread poverty existent in El Salvador .


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Binford, Leigh, and Aldo Lauria-Santiago

    2004 Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society, and Community in El Salvador . Pittsburgh:  University of Pittsburgh Press.


    Boland, Roy C.

    2001 Culture and Customs of El Salvador . Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.


    Esbenshade, Jill

    2004 Monitoring Sweatshops: Workers, Consumers, and the Global Apparel Industry.  Philadelphia:  Temple University Press.


    Gorkin, Michael with Marta Pineda and Gloria Leal

    2000 From Grandmother to Granddaughter: Salvadoran Women's Stories. Berkeley:  University of California Press.


    Kottak, Conrad Phillip

    2005 Mirror for Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Contact Jim Aimers | ©2004 Miami University