Update On Russell Athletic/Jerzees de Honduras
I wanted to provide you with an update concerning Russell Athletic.
As you have probably noticed, communications from the WRC about the case have been limited over the last two months. The reason for this is that talks have been underway involving Russell, the CGT (the union representing the workers of the Jerzees de Honduras factory), and the WRC. The purpose of these discussions is to try to reach agreement on a plan to fully remediate the labor rights violations in Honduras. We have limited our communications on the case in deference to these discussions.
However, some information has recently been circulating about this process and a number of our affiliate universities and colleges have asked about the WRC’s role and our view of the situation. I therefore wanted to provide you with some background and let you know where things stand. We feel it is appropriate and constructive to update our affiliates at the present juncture.
Several months ago, an attorney retained by Russell contacted the WRC and informed us that the company was interested in discussing steps it could take to address the labor rights situation at its Honduran facilities. (Russell’s outside attorney, Claude Fontheim, is someone the WRC has worked with on several other cases over the years). The WRC indicated our willingness to discuss with Russell substantive remedial action that would achieve compliance with university codes of conduct.
We also informed the company that it was essential that they establish a direct dialogue with the CGT, as the representative of the workers affected by the company’s actions. The company agreed to do so and initiated communications with the union through a US representative that the CGT has appointed.
Initial discussions were by phone and email. In-person meetings commenced the last week of July. They involved a meeting between Russell and the WRC, to discuss the essential elements of an effective remediation plan, and two days of discussions between Russell and the CGT. A second round of talks took place, again in DC, during the first week of August. A third round is being held this week.
Because of an agreement to keep the contents of the discussions confidential, I am not able to share the substance with you. As you know, confidentiality is important to the success of such a process. I can report that the discussions have been substantive and that it is clear that Russell recognizes the extraordinarily deep concern in the university community about this case.
What is not clear, at this point, is whether a successful outcome will be achieved. While it is encouraging that a dialogue is taking place, what matters is whether this dialogue produces a viable plan to address the issues. This depends on whether Russell is genuinely ready to remediate the violations in Honduras and come into compliance with university codes of conduct.
It been nearly a year since Russell announced the closure of the JDH factory and more than two years since the WRC first reported serious violations of worker rights at Russell factories in Honduras. During this time, the JDH workers have suffered extraordinary hardships and an environment has been created that has had a severe chilling effect on the associational rights of workers throughout the company’s Honduran operations.
The present discussions constitute a crucial opportunity for Russell to agree to meaningful remediation of these violations. We hope the discussions will yield a robust remediation plan that can be embraced by all of the stakeholders and that will be faithfully implemented by the company.
We will report the outcome to you as soon as it is feasible to do so.
We appreciate the time, effort and ongoing attention that our affiliate institutions have devoted to this critically important case. Please contact me if you have any questions.
Worker Rights Consortium
5 Thomas Circle NW
Washington DC 20005
ph 202 387 4884
fax 202 387 3292