February 25, 2009
Sportswear supplier Russell Athletic is facing growing pressure from students and other anti-sweatshop activists and US and Canadian universities to get serious about remediating well-documented violations of workers’ rights at its recently closed Jerzees de Honduras factory in Choloma, Honduras.
In response to reports from separate investigations carried out by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) indicating that Russell’s decision to close the factory was motivated to a significant extent by anti-union animus, so far 12 US universities have announced plans to cease placing orders with the company.
Russell closed the factory on January 30 two days after the FLA released reports from three investigations into alleged worker rights violations at the factory and the company’s argument that the plant was being closed for purely business reasons.
The third FLA investigation was carried out in response to a complaint from the Honduran CGT union and a number of labour rights organizations, including MSN, alleging that the original FLA investigation was biased against the workers.
(students protest at Georgetown University)
The report from the third FLA investigation, which was carried out by international labour expert Adrián Goldin, challenged the methods and findings of the original investigation. It also documented numerous violations of workers’ associational rights by factory management, including:
Goldin’s findings are generally consistent with those of the WRC, which released its own investigative report in November 2008. His report concludes, “[T]he closure of the factory has been determined, at least to a significant extent, by the existence and activity of the union….”
MSN has been engaging with the FLA, WRC, the Central General de Trabajadores de Honduras (CGT), Russell Athletic and universities that have licensing agreements with Russell to address the impacts of the closure.
Recognizing that a corrective action plan agreed to by the company shortly before it closed the factory did not adequately address the findings of the Goldin report, on February 12, the FLA Board of Directors issued a resolution calling on Russell to take additional corrective action, including:
The FLA resolution also urges Russell to meet directly with other key stakeholders, such as member universities, the CGT union, and the WRC “in good faith to determine what additional corrective action is needed to address these concerns.”
Although Russell has since released a statement to universities expressing its willingness to take corrective action, that statement ignores these and other key recommendations in the FLA Board resolution. Nor does it address the demands of the CGT or the recommendations of the WRC.
If you are a student, employee or faculty member at a university that buys and/or licenses Russell sportswear products, urge your university or university bookstore to inform Russell that it will end its licensing arrangement with the company unless and until it adequately addresses the demands of the CGT and the recommendations for corrective action put forward by the FLA and the WRC.
• Read the WRC report and memos on the Jerzees closure.
• Read Russell Athletic’s statements on the case.
• Read New York Times article on university reaction to Jerzees closure.