New WRC Report: Reinstatement, Back Pay, and Safety Improvements at Collegiate Supplier

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Manodeep Guha and Ben Hensler
Date:June 15, 2023
Re:Reinstatement, Back Pay, and Safety Improvements at Collegiate Supplier

The WRC investigated and, with the assistance of New Wave Group and Cutter & Buck, secured corrective actions to address two vehicular accidents involving factory workers in 2021 (a crash of a company-provided bus while transporting workers to the factory) and 2022 (a truck accident on the factory premises), which resulted in the death of one employee and serious injuries to six others. The WRC’s investigation found that Niagara violated university codes of conduct by:

  • Failing to maintain safe conditions for contracted bus transport of workers to the factory and for truck deliveries on factory premises;
  • Failing to pay adequate compensation to the family members of a worker killed in the 2022 accident;
  • Failing to cover medical and rehabilitation expenses for six workers who were seriously injured in the 2021 and 2022 accidents;
  • Threatening physical violence against an injured worker for complaining about the factory’s refusal to reimburse medical expenses; and
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities to enable the five injured employees to return to work, and, thereafter, effectively terminating their employment, without paying legally owed severance. 

As you know, the International Safety Accord (formerly Bangladesh Accord) has made historic progress in protecting workers making collegiate and other apparel in Bangladesh from deadly factory fires and collapses. However, workers in that country continue to face risks of serious injury and death from other types of industrial hazards, outside of the factory buildings proper.
Please find here a new report on the WRC’s investigation and remediation of two work-related vehicular accidents that caused serious injury and death to several workers at Niagara Textiles, a factory located in Bangladesh, that has produced collegiate apparel for the university licensee, Cutter & Buck, and supplies non-collegiate apparel to the licensee’s parent company, New Wave Group. The factory, which also supplies the UK retailer, Next, employs roughly 5,000 workers. 

The WRC shared these findings with Niagara and New Wave Group / Cutter & Buck along with detailed recommendations for corrective action. After several months of engagement by both the WRC and New Wave Group / Cutter & Buck, Niagara has, as of earlier this week:

  • Paid compensation to the family of the worker killed in the 2022 accident and secured additional compensation from an industry fund;
  • Compensated all workers who were seriously injured in these accidents for all unreimbursed medical expenses and disciplined the manager who threatened a worker with violence for complaining of the factory’s prior refusal to do this;
  • Paid the workers who were seriously injured in the 2021 accident severance, along with full back pay for the two years since they were terminated in 2021;
  • Offered the injured workers reinstatement with reasonable accommodations for their injuries; and
  • Improved vehicular safety on factory premises by setting separate routes for workers and trucks, and Niagara committed to improve safety on bus transportation by employing credentialed drivers, limiting capacity on buses, and installing monitoring and speed-limiting equipment.

Niagara paid the compensation for unpaid medical expenses, statutory severance benefits, and back pay to the five workers seriously injured in the accident, in full, on June 11, 2023.  In this photograph, you can see the workers with the compensation they received and perhaps get a sense of what it means to them and their families.

These workers, all of whom had suffered serious pelvic or leg fractures in the accident, each received $2,000–$4,000—the equivalent of two to four years’ regular wages. The WRC will continue to monitor the implementation and maintenance of the improved safety measures at the factory and on employer-provided buses, as well as the scheduled additional payment to the family of the deceased worker.

These remedial actions correct the violations of university codes of conduct identified by the WRC in relation to these accidents. Although the accidents should have been avoided in the first place, the additional safety measures Niagara has committed to maintain should substantially reduce the risk of such tragedies recurring in the future.

Moreover, though the factory’s treatment of the affected workers and their families following the accidents in 2021 and 2022 failed to respect their rights under university codes of conduct, the corrective actions more recently taken by the factory have provided them with substantial economic support and a measure of greater justice and hope for the future.

Throughout this process, Cutter & Buck and New Wave Group fully recognized and accepted their responsibility to ensure the level of remediation that university codes of conduct required. Their representatives worked closely and consistently with the WRC in engaging extensively and substantively with Niagara to bring about this positive outcome.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.