Successful Remediation of Mass Firing, Violent Threats at Collegiate Factory in Cambodia

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Bent Gehrt and Ben Hensler
Date:March 28, 2024
Re:Successful Remediation of Mass Firing, Violent Threats at Collegiate Factory in Cambodia

Please find here a new report on the WRC’s investigation and successful remediation of violent threats, mass firing, and other retaliation against worker leaders at the Sun Shui Shing Industrial travel goods factory in Cambodia. The factory has been disclosed by the handbag brand, Vera Bradley, as among its suppliers of collegiate-licensed goods, and also produces for such brands as Puma and PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger).
The WRC’s investigation found that, immediately after workers established an independent union at the factory to address complaints of forced overtime and verbal abuse, the factory management launched an intense campaign of illegal retaliation that included, among other abuses:

  • Threatening and carrying out retaliatory suspensions and firings of five worker leaders and activists;
  • Making gender-based threats of violence against these workers; and
  • Issuing threats of retaliatory firing against nine other workers.

The WRC reached out to the factory management and the university licensee, Vera Bradley, concerning the violations, but neither replied.

Due to the urgent need to secure remedies, the WRC then reached out to non-collegiate buyers from the factory, seeking corrective action. To its credit, PVH immediately agreed to engage with the factory management, which, soon after, committed to reinstate all five fired worker leaders with full back pay.

The five fired workers were reinstated in October 2023, and each received the equivalent of six and a half months’ back wages. Moreover, since the five worker leaders and activists returned to the factory, employees report that fear of management retaliation among the rest of the workforce has decreased dramatically, and workers are now freely exercising their basic associational rights. 

As noted, when the WRC contacted Vera Bradley about this case last year, the company failed to reply, even though, as a licensee of WRC-affiliated universities, it was required to do so. When we advised Vera Bradley last week of our forthcoming report to universities, Vera Bradley claimed, for the first time, that it had engaged with the factory in response to the WRC’s findings—but chose not to communicate this at the time to the WRC.

By failing to reply to and coordinate with the WRC on remediation of the violations, Vera Bradley put the remediation process at risk. Fortunately, due to the timely and effective cooperation shown by PVH, a positive outcome was nonetheless achieved in this case.

Vera Bradley has assured the WRC that, going forward, it will do a better job of acknowledging, and keeping the WRC informed of its response to, our findings concerning labor practices in its supply chain for collegiate goods. We will advise universities of the licensee’s response in any future cases.

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