November 30, 2016
Rick Medlin, President and CEO of Fruit of the Loom (the parent company of the university licensee, Russell Athletic), died suddenly this past Sunday. We at the WRC are deeply saddened by this news.
Rick played a central role in the resolution of the high-profile dispute in 2008-2009 between Russell Athletic and a Honduran union federation, the CGT, over freedom of association rights at a directly-owned Russell factory in that country. At the end of 2009, Rick negotiated and signed an historic agreement that not only remedied the problems at the factory, but opened the door to major labor rights advancements across Fruit of the Loom’s operations in Honduras, where the company is one of the nation’s largest employers.
In the ensuing years, as the head of Fruit of the Loom (FOTL), Rick oversaw the implementation of the agreement between the company and the union in Honduras, a process on which the WRC has reported extensively. It is not an exaggeration to say that this agreement, as implemented under Rick’s leadership, has been the greatest source of labor rights progress for Honduran garment workers in the history of the country’s garment industry – and, indeed, in the history of the industry across Central America.
In a country with a deeply troubled history on freedom of association, Rick and his leadership team at FOTL, along with their colleagues at the CGT, have forged a shining example of labor-management partnership, good faith negotiation and the peaceful and constructive resolution of labor disputes. In 2014, Rick’s leadership in this arena was recognized when the company received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence for showing “exemplary corporate citizenship” through “pioneering union advancements at its local garment manufacturing facilities” in Honduras.
The agreement Rick brokered between FOTL and the CGT has allowed workers to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements at four FOTL factories in Honduras, employing thousands of workers – in a region where constructive industrial relations in the manufacturing sector has been virtually non-existent. Under Rick’s leadership, FOTL managers in Honduras have dealt with worker representatives in an environment of mutual respect – advancing the needs and interests of both the company and the workforce – an achievement that should be seen as a model for the entire garment industry.
Over the last six years, we’ve had the privilege to work closely with Rick and his team at FOTL, most recently at a two-day “summit meeting” in DC in September to discuss the issues facing the company and the CGT federation, and to map out a plan to further strengthen their relationship. We’ve gotten to know Rick well and to observe his efforts closely. Rick was a corporate leader of great integrity, sincerely dedicated to the principles embodied in the company’s agreement with the CGT, and possessed of the ample management skills needed to lead an enormously complex and challenging process to implement constructive labor relations. Rick’s leadership and vision will be sorely missed in the corporate and labor rights communities.
We are confident that the impact of Rick’s pioneering labor rights contributions will only continue to grow in the region’s garment industry. We are now seeing other global corporations manufacturing in Honduras beginning to follow FOTL’s lead on union rights and we are seeing changing attitudes among local employers, as well. Rick and Fruit of the Loom have helped to breach long-standing barriers to freedom of association and workplace democracy in Honduras and the historic opening that Rick has spearheaded will continue to expand.
We offer our deepest condolences to Rick’s family and to his colleagues at FOTL. We will miss him.
I also wanted to share with you a statement from FOTL on Rick’s passing, as well as a message about Rick posted by Eva Argueta, a key leader of the CGT, which you can read here (the text is the WRC’s translation from the original Spanish).
Worker Rights Consortium