New WRC Finding on Russell Case

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:April 2, 2009
Re:New WRC Finding on Russell Case

On Saturday, March 28, the WRC conducted a survey of former workers at Jerzees de Honduras (JDH) who were members of the union. The primary purpose of the survey was to determine whether Russell offered workers at JDH paid time off to search for employment prior to the closure of the factory – as the company has repeatedly claimed in communications to universities.

We are aware of at least six separate communications to universities and the media in the last two months in which Russell has made this claim. For example:  

  • In a document titled “Russell Corporate Social Responsibility Report on Continuous Improvement Process,” dated February 16, Russell stated: “The JDH employees were allowed paid excused time off to interview for jobs.” 
  • In a document entitled “The Other Side of the Story,” issued to universities on February 13, Russell stated: “We allowed employees paid time off to interview for jobs…” 
  • In a press release issued March 27, Russell claimed it had gone “well beyond the basics” in aiding its displaced employees, “even offering paid time off so they could attend job interviews.” 
  • In a document sent to universities yesterday (April 1), Russell stated: “We offered employees paid time off for job interviews…”  

Russell has repeatedly cited this program of paid time off as a central element of its remediation plan in Honduras. While Russell’s narrow remediation plan, even if faithfully implemented, would be insufficient to undo the grave harm the company has done to workers, it is worth examining the question of whether Russell has actually provided workers with the modest assistance it claims to have provided. This was the primary purpose of the survey we carried out on March 28.  

The survey was conducted in cooperation with Equipo de Monitoreo Independiente de Honduras (EMIH), a respected non-profit labor rights monitoring group that has done work for a range of major organizations and brands (including Nike, adidas, Gap and the World Bank). A total of 141 workers were surveyed. All are former employees of JDH and members of the union. Workers were asked the following question: “Prior to the closure of the factory, did anyone from Jerzees de Honduras or Russell Corporation inform you, at any time, that you could take paid time off to look for new employment?”  

The results of the survey are extremely disturbing.  

Of the 141 workers surveyed, 0 (zero) reported that they were offered paid time off to search for work. This information is consistent with reports the WRC has received from the leadership of the union that no such offer was ever made by Russell to union members.  

The WRC has not been able to survey non-members of the union on this question. We therefore do not know whether non-union workers were offered paid leave to search for employment. There are thus two possible explanations for the fact that members of the union were denied this leave: 

  1. 1)       Russell carried out a program to provide paid time off to workers, but systematically discriminated against union members in carrying out this program; or
  2. 2)      There was no program of paid leave and this key element of Russell’s remediation plan is a fabrication. 

We believe the latter is the more likely of the two explanations, though it is not clear which is worse: implementing a program to assist employees and systematically excluding union members or fabricating the existence of such a program whole cloth.  

Whichever is the case, it is clear that Russell has repeatedly misled the university community on this important issue. In numerous communications, Russell has conveyed to universities that it carried out a program, available to workers in general, to provide paid leave to assist in workers’ search for alternative employment. It is now clear that a fair and non-discriminatory program along these lines never existed: the program either discriminated against union members or it never happened at all. 

The very limited remediation plan that Russell has announced, including paid time off for workers to seek employment, is woefully inadequate, given the severity and scope of the labor rights abuses the company has committed. We now know that even this limited program has not been faithfully implemented. 

As always, please feel free to contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss this information.

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