Update and Guidance to Licensees on Violations of Freedom of Association

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date:July 29, 2020
Re:Update and Guidance to Licensees on Violations of Freedom of Association

We want to share with you guidance the WRC is providing to university licensees concerning a recent upsurge in incidents of retaliation by garment factories, including those making collegiate goods, against workers for peaceful exercise of associational rights.

Such acts of retaliation have included:

  • The targeted firing of 300 union members, including most of the union’s leadership, at Popular Garment in Myanmar (which, until the end of 2019, produced collegiate apparel for Cutter and Buck);
  • The imprisonment of a worker for two months for posting a Facebook message about the unjustified firing of a pregnant employee at the Superl factory in Cambodia (a supplier to Kate Spade and Michael Kors); and
  • Jail sentences for two workers, after a sham trial, and the retaliatory firing of 100 other workers, for seeking health protections at the Blue Diamond factory in Myanmar (which produced non-collegiate wallets for university licensee Vera Bradley).

The guidance document discusses the WRC’s recent engagement in these cases with licensees and other brands to secure remediation and corrective action, and it outlines the minimum remedial steps that must be swiftly taken in any such cases of retaliation for exercise of freedom of association to ensure that this fundamental workplace right is protected and preserved.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact on the global supply chain exposes workers to both economic harm, in the form of layoffs and plant closures, and occupational health risk, from potential workplace transmission of the virus, workers’ rights to speak and act collectively to protect their own safety and welfare is more important than ever. The WRC will continue to engage with licensees to ensure respect for associational rights in factories producing university apparel and other garment factories around the world.

As always, please let us know if you have any thoughts or questions about this guidance to licensees.