Workers at Two Guatemala Garment Factories Overcome a History of Violence and Vindicate Associational Rights

The WRC recently issued a report on the remediation of severe violations of workers’ right to freedom of association at the Guatemalan garment factory, Winners, owned by the South Korean multinational corporation, SAE-A, Guatemala’s largest garment manufacturer. A WRC investigation in 2020 found that local management at the Winners factory incited employees who headed a company-favored union to perpetrate mob violence and issue death threats against workers who were members of an independent trade union.

A worker who was a leader of the independent union was told by employees associated with the company-favored union,

“Resign or you won’t be alive when you leave here … [D]rop the [independent] union, resign from the company, drop the reinstatement order [from the Guatemalan courts to rehire three workers whom the company had illegally fired], and accept an offer from the company for 40,000 quetzales [US$5,135] and a vehicle. If you don’t accept, you will leave here dead.”

Having issued this death threat, the leaders of the company-favored union then brutally beat the worker and forced her and several other workers in the independent union, on pain of death, to resign from the factory’s employment.

After investigating these shocking incidents, the WRC engaged with SAE-A and with the factory’s buyers, Gap and Wal-Mart, to secure remediations. At the WRC’s urging, Gap required SAE-A to terminate the factory’s human resources manager, demote a senior manager, and fire 12 employees in the company-favored union who perpetrated the violence and threats.

The workers in the independent union who had been targeted with death threats and violence were offered reinstatement and paid back wages and damages of approximately $200,000. As SAE-A resisted taking these corrective measures for several months, the workers ultimately chose to take this compensation, but not to return to employment at the factory. Read the WRC’s full report on the violence and other violations of freedom of association and their subsequent remediation at SAE-A’s Winners factory in Guatemala.

In January 2022, more than a year after the violence at the Winners factory, management at another SAE-A-owned facility in Guatemala called Centexsa, which manufactures collegiate apparel, terminated nine workers to retaliate for attending an off-site meeting to organize an independent union. The workers stated that they were forming a union to address alleged abusive treatment and denial of paid sick leave and other statutory benefits.

In this more recent case, however, SAE-A’s corporate headquarters responded much more quickly to address and correct its local factory management’s violation of workers’ associational rights. At the recommendation of the WRC, Centexsa reinstated the fired workers and made full payment of back wages, just one week after the dismissals occurred. SAE-A also agreed to take additional corrective actions recommended by the WRC, including issuing a statement to workers pledging to respect freedom of association going forward, refraining from further interference with workers’ formation of a union, and recognizing a union when one is officially registered with the government.

SAE’s Centexsa factory produces university licensed apparel for Gear for Sports (Hanesbrands) under the Under Armour Performance Apparel brand and the College Vault by Under Armour brand. Read the WRC’s memo to university affiliates regarding remediation of freedom of association violations at the Centexsa factory.