Most musicians and music lovers around the world know of guitar brands like Fender, Gibson, Alvarez, G&L, ESP and Ibenez. What they may not know is where these brands’ guitars are made and who makes them. Until a few years ago, many of these guitars were produced in Korea by factory workers who toiled long hours to meet production deadlines, working in windowless rooms, inhaling harmful fumes and making less than minimum wage. If you live in the Los Angeles area, be sure to check out what the workers have to say for themselves since they have an afternoon action set up. More info is available at cortaction.wordpress.com/la-schedule/.
These factories were run by a company called Cort. Cort currently controls 30% of the global guitar market. However, factories in Korea were shut down in 2007, shortly after workers unionized in hopes of receiving at least the minimum wage, joining forces with the Korean Metal Workers Union Here is an example of other struggles that workers are facing in Korea. Cort claimed economic hardship as the reason for this closure. However, according to the international solidarity blog, the CEO of Cort has become a billionaire, one of the richest men in Korea and the 125th richest man in the world. With $78 billion dollars in profit, Cort’s claim of bankrupty and financial hardship to justify the mass firing of all of it’s Korean employees sounds all the more dubious.
For the past three years, Korean guitar workers and their supporters have been protesting the closure of these factories which left 123 workers without a job. Workers are asking for these factories to be reopened under more just conditions. Even the Korean courts ruled in favor of the workers on this one. For many of these guitar workers, making guitars is not just a job- it is also their art. For some, it is what they have been doing their entire lives.
The workers are demanding that Cort reopen the factories in Korea and return jobs to the displaced workers, They need the support, of musicians, artists, cultural producers, media makers and anyone who believes that guitars - and therefore music- should be made under fair and humane conditions. Workers have set up a blog where the public can hear their stories and find out about opportunities to support this cause.
As part of our work to end sweatshops, ILRF has contacted Fender directly and is looking forward to working with the company to ensure that the workers producing their guitars get what they deserve.A coalition of Korean workers and their supporters are voicing their demands this week in Anaheim, California. Anaheim is the site of the NAMM Show, an annual event and one of the largest music product trade shows in the world. Korean workers and their supporters are calling on anyone and everyone who can move, shake and rattle to join in on the noise. Tom Morello or Rage Against the Machine and Boots Riley of the Coup did their part on Wednesday night, letting the guitar industry know let the industry know: it’s not just about the instrument, it’s about the kind of world we want to live in.