Continuing Pattern of Serious Labor Abuses at VF Supplier E Garment/Yee Tung Group


To: WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From: Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date: March 14, 2013
Re: Continuing Pattern of Serious Labor Abuses at VF Supplier E Garment/Yee Tung Group

New developments over the past week continue to reveal a pervasive and persistent pattern of violence against workers at collegiate supplier E Garment and its parent company. E Garment is a factory in Cambodia which has been disclosed as a supplier of collegiate licensed apparel to VF Corporation (“VF”). Its parent company, Yee Tung Garment Company (“Yee Tung Group”) is a Hong Kong-based multinational corporation which is a Participating Supplier of the Fair Labor Association (FLA).

These developments include the police detention in Cambodia, at the direction of E Garment management, of European labor rights advocates who were seeking merely to speak with the factory’s workers. They also include highly credible reports from Jordan that workers protesting labor rights violations at a Yee Tung Group factory in that country have been subjected to company-directed violence, as well as other serious workplace abuses, including forced labor. At the Jordan factory, management directed male workers to physically assault female employees who were refusing to work in protest of labor abuses. Four workers suffered injuries in this assault requiring medical treatment. These developments are obviously extremely troubling and are further discussed below.

As we informed you in an update on February 28, in two separate incidents on February 6 and February 21, Yee Tung Group management at E Garment retaliated violently against employees who were protesting the company’s retaliatory firings of more than 40 of their co-workers. The company directed violent attacks on workers by company-paid police and by armed thugs from a company-sponsored gangster union. Four victims of these attacks were hospitalized.

In the wake of this violence – and after urgent communications from the WRC – VF and the FLA have begun to engage with Yee Tung Group concerning these and other, more longstanding, violations at E Garment. Specifically, VF has informed us that its representatives are travelling to Southeast Asia this week to meet with Yee Tung Group. WRC field representatives in the region have been contacted by a consultant retained by the FLA to review the labor rights violations at E Garment detailed in our December 2012 report.

However, we are concerned about the lack of urgency on VF’s part in the face of abuses that merited swifter and more forceful action, both to remedy acts of violence already committed and to prevent future acts. VF should have responded as soon as it was notified of the violence at E Garment, by contacting Yee Tung Group management at the highest levels and demanding an immediate cessation of violence and other unlawful acts, on pain of economic sanction. To our knowledge, such communications have still not been issued, more than two weeks after VF was made aware of the violence.

Moreover, we are concerned by efforts VF has made to justify its inaction on the grounds that the FLA must now conduct an investigation. While we recognize that the FLA, under its own procedures, may need to undertake investigative work before it can take action against Yee Tung Group as an FLA Participating Supplier, VF’s obligations are a separate matter. VF has had ample basis for action since it was notified of the violence at E Garment more than two weeks ago and the company is obligated under university codes of conduct to act on the basis of the WRC’s findings.

Although there is no way to determine with certainty, a swift and robust response by VF to the violence at E Garment might have prevented the detention of the European advocates and might have stayed Yee Tung’s actions in Jordan, where VF is apparently also the company’s largest customer. Unfortunately, Yee Tung management received no immediate admonition from VF over the violence in Cambodia and obviously felt no compunction about undertaking acts of violence against workers at its Jordan facilities.

These events must also be understood in the context of a longer history of labor rights abuses by Yee Tung Group and a concomitant history of inaction by VF in the face of those abuses. Had VF, or, for that matter, the FLA, taken strong action against Yee Tung Group at an earlier date – for example, in response to the WRC’s December 2012 report – it is possible that the violence in Cambodia and Jordan could have been averted.

We summarize below the most recent incidents in Cambodia and Jordan. We have already shared this information with VF, FLA and Yee Tung Group’s other buyers (see memorandum here). These most recent acts of repression further underscore the need for immediate code enforcement action against Yee Tung Group.

Yee Tung Group Orders Cambodian Police to Detain European Labor Rights Advocates for Speaking to E Garment Workers outside Factory

On March 5, Cambodian police, who admitted acting at the company’s request, detained five European citizens affiliated with the Clean Clothes Campaign, a leading Brussels-based labor rights advocacy organization, who were meeting with workers outside the E Garment factory and asking the workers questions about their conditions and treatment by the company. Such action, particularly in the context of recent company-directed police violence against the factory’s workers, represents yet a further attempt to interfere with their associational rights.

The five persons detained, who included citizens of Norway, Belgium, England and Austria, were held by police for more than five hours on the pretext of their not carrying their passports (they were carrying photocopies of their passports), in an act of harassment that clearly was instigated by E Garment. This incident was reported in Cambodia’s leading English daily newspaper.

Yee Tung Group Factory in Jordan Directs Violent Attack on Burmese Migrant Workers, Cheats Them of Months of Wages through “Recruitment Fees,” Ethnic Discrimination, Overtime Violations – and Uses Forced Labor Tactics to Prevent Them from Going Home

Also last week, the WRC, with the assistance of local Jordanian and Burmese expatriate worker rights advocates, was able to document very serious labor and human rights abuses against Burmese migrant workers at Century Miracle Apparel – a Yee Tung Group factory in Ramtha, Jordan, that also supplies VF and other major apparel firms with non-collegiate apparel. Employees at the factory, who have been subjected to numerous violations of both Jordanian labor law and the codes of conduct of both VF and the FLA, reported that Burmese migrant workers who were peacefully protesting these abuses were physically beaten by local Jordanian workers acting at the express direction of a Yee Tung Group supervisor. These events present disturbing parallels to the violence against workers at E Garment.

In an incident on March 2 that has been reported in a leading journal of Burmese affairs, a Yee Tung Group factory supervisor ordered several Jordanian male employees to forcibly drag to work from their living quarters female Burmese migrant workers who were participating in a peaceful strike to protest labor abuses at the factory. When the female employees refused to go to work, the supervisor ordered the Jordanian men to beat them – inflicting injuries that caused four of the workers to need medical treatment.

Since this violent attack, hundreds of Burmese migrant workers at the factory are reportedly so frightened that they now wish to leave the factory and return home to Burma, however, the company is keeping them in Jordan by telling them that they cannot leave the factory unless they pay substantial penalties to the company – a policy that amounts to forced labor. The Burmese migrant workers are in no position to pay such penalties because, as the WRC has documented, they are already being cheated by Yee Tung Group of many months’ wages – in the form of unlawful wage deductions for “recruitment fees,” some of which they were only told of after arriving at the factory, pervasive illegal nonpayment of wages for overtime, and blatantly discriminatory wage practices under which Burmese workers are paid substantially less than workers of other ethnicities.

All of these practices, of course, grossly violate the codes of conduct of both VF and the FLA, which are supposed to protect these workers. As noted, the WRC has shared its findings concerning the abuses at Yee Tung Group’s Jordanian factory with both organizations, and with Yee Tung Group’s other buyers, along with detailed recommendations concerning the very substantial measures needed to remedy the violations of these workers’ rights. We are hopeful that, as a result, Yee Tung Group finally will be held accountable for its abusive and unethical labor practices, in both Cambodia and Jordan, and be held to a meaningful and comprehensive program of corrective action in its factories.

Scott Nova
Worker Rights Consortium
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor
Washington DC 20005
ph 202 387 4884
fax 202 387 3292
[email protected]