Code Compliance Successes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Jessica Champagne and Scott Nova
Date:December 16, 2022
Re:Code Compliance Successes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia

As we near the end of 2022, we write to provide brief updates on four cases that were resolved this year. In each case, the WRC documented violations of workers’ rights, engaged university licensees and/or other buyers, and ensured that the violations were remedied through financial compensation and, in one case, reinstatement.
KGG (Ethiopia)
Workers at the KGG Garments factory in Ethiopia have received the funds that they were illegally denied when the factory closed in October 2021. During the period leading up to the closure, the factory coerced workers to resign in order to avoid providing these workers the severance that they were legally entitled to under law. As we reported in March, Cutter & Buck, which sourced collegiate apparel from the factory, committed to provide the funds owed to workers when the factory owners refused to do so. Arranging for the distribution of these funds posed a number of challenges, given the current security situation and the legal restrictions on Ethiopian civil society.
The WRC and Cutter & Buck have now been able to arrange for the full $135,000 to be distributed and have succeeded in contacting nearly all of the approximately 1,300 former KGG workers. As the monthly wages at KGG were only about $25 per month, workers received the equivalent of about three months’ wages. Further details are available here.
Uni Gears (Bangladesh)
In 2020, the Uni Gears factory in Bangladesh undertook a similar scheme to KGG Garments, albeit on a smaller scale: Uni Gears coerced a number of workers to resign in order to avoid providing workers’ full severance benefits. The WRC has previously reported on 11 Uni Gears workers who received the severance pay that they had been initially denied. Outerstuff, which produced university licensed apparel at Uni Gears, played a key role in pressing the company to make these payments after they were informed of the issue by the WRC. At that time, there were indications that other former employees of the factory had been impacted as well. Over the past year, the WRC conducted further outreach in the community around the factory and located other former workers who had experienced similar incidents.
Last month, an additional five workers received a total of $5,094—an average of ten months’ salary. With this compensation, Uni Gears has now made restitution to all of the workers that the WRC has identified to date as being coerced to resign. Further details are available here.
Shahi Exports (India)
Also last month, the WRC helped secure the reinstatement of a garment worker leader in Bangalore, India, who was subjected to violent threats, physical assault, and suspension from her job for nine months after protesting verbal abuse and harassment of other workers by supervisors and managers at her factory, which is operated by Shahi Exports, one of the country’s largest garment manufacturers. Although the facility where the incidents occurred does not produce for university licensees, Shahi’s other operations in Bangalore include factories that produce collegiate goods for Columbia Sportswear and non-collegiate goods for Nike. After the WRC reported these abuses to Columbia Sportswear, Nike, and other major brands sourcing from Shahi, the worker leader was reinstated, having been paid for the entire nine-month period she was suspended. Moreover, all of the supervisors and managers at the factory that the WRC identified as being implicated in the abuse and harassment have either been disciplined, reassigned, or have left the company. The WRC is continuing to engage with buyers from Shahi to secure the implementation of further mechanisms to prevent future incidents of this kind.
B.D. Cambodia (Cambodia)
The WRC has worked with licensees to resolve a case in which a Cambodian factory illegally terminated a workplace leader, made a legally binding commitment to reinstate him as part of a mediation process facilitated by the Cambodian government, and then refused to follow through on its commitment. When the worker attempted to return to work at the factory—B.D.Cambodia—he was turned away despite the factory’s commitment to reinstate him. After attempting to work through the Cambodian legal system for several years, the worker, supported by his union, filed a complaint with the WRC. When the WRC documented these violations and contacted the two licensees sourcing from the factory, alphabroder and Founder Sport Group, the licensees acted promptly to press the supplier to remedy the violations. While the worker no longer wished to return to the factory, he received compensation for his lost wages and severance, as detailed in this case brief.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like additional information about any of these developments. The worker rights violations seen in these cases—coercion, failure to pay legally required compensation, and retaliation against workers who speak out—are all too common in global garment supply chains, and only increased during the global coronavirus pandemic. It is a credit to university labor standards and independent factory monitoring that, in these four cases, workers were able to see these violations remedied.