In 2007, a series of retaliatory firings occurred at two factories in Honduras owned by Fruit of the Loom, which is the parent company of Russell Athletic, a major collegiate licensee. A total of 145 workers were dismissed in retaliation for organizing or joining newly-formed unions. The workers contacted the WRC and, in response, we conducted an investigation in September 2007, which documented the retaliatory nature of the firings at both Jerzees Choloma and Jerzees de Honduras. Ultimately, following the WRC's engagement with Russell Athletic and with affiliated universities, Russell offered reinstatement to the fired workers and provided them back pay totaling $150,000.
The Jerzees Choloma factory was closed several months later, in March 2008, but the WRC's investigation concluded that the closure was not motivated by anti-union animus. To mitigate the impact of the closure, Fruit of the Loom offered all Jerzees Choloma employees the opportunity to transfer to Jerzees de Honduras.
However, in October 2008, Russell announced plans to close the Jerzees de Honduras factory as well, leaving 1,200 workers without jobs. This time, the WRC's investigation found that the closure, which was announced days after an impasse was reached in collective bargaining between the factory's union and management, was inspired by anti-union animus. The WRC also documented additional violations of workers' associational rights, including the company's imposition of collective pacts, which have been used in Honduras as a tool for thwarting independent organization of labor unions.
Following the WRC's investigation of the closure, the CGT union that represented the Jerzees de Honduras workers, with the support of international organizations around the world, fought for Fruit of the Loom to end and remedy its crackdown on workers' right to organize. The union and the workers carried out a year-long campaign to publicize the violations and to demand that the company reopen the factory. The campaign resulted in more than 100 universities cutting their business ties with Russell Athletic. The campaign, which was coordinated by the union, university students, and other organizations, received media attention, which created additional pressure on Fruit of the Loom to remedy the violations.
In November 2009, representatives of Fruit of the Loom and the CGT union met together in Washington, DC, and signed an agreement to remedy the violations. The agreement offered employment for the workers who had been wrongfully fired at a new factory known as Jerzees Nuevo Dia (“New Day at Jerzees”), significant back pay for the fired workers who had been without work for a year, training on freedom of association at all Fruit of the Loom factories, access for the CGT union representatives to meet with workers at all Fruit of the Loom factories in Honduras, and the establishment of a monitoring body to ensure compliance with the agreement and to address future complaints of freedom of association.
The signing of the agreement led not only to a remediation of the violations, but also to significant changes with regard to respect for freedom of association that continue to have a lasting impact in Honduras.
To view all of the WRC's reports on the Jerzees factories in Honduras, see here.