Update on Violence at Shahi Exports (Columbia Sportswear)
June 26, 2018
Last week, the WRC released a report detailing our investigative findings of vicious retaliation against workers – including beatings; death threats; gender and religion-based abuse; and the expulsion of 15 worker activists – at a factory in Bangalore, India, supplying licensee Columbia Sportswear and other brands. As we reported, despite nearly two months of effort by the WRC, Columbia had failed to require the factory’s owner, Shahi Exports, to take key steps necessary to remedy these severe violations of university standards: among them, terminating the managers the WRC found had personally committed acts of violence and recognizing and negotiating with the workers’ union. In the absence of effective buyer intervention, Shahi was refusing to budge on these issues. The WRC therefore proceeded to publish our report – in order to inform our university affiliates of this serious situation and with the hope that publication would increase pressure on Shahi and spur long-delayed action to address the brutal violence committed in April.
Under pressure from the publication of the WRC’s report, Shahi met yesterday with the workers’ union and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU). It can be viewed here. On paper, this MOU represents a major positive shift in Shahi’s position. It has the potential to bring about an adequate resolution of the violations.
However, this depends on whether Columbia and other brands now require Shahi to implement the MOU in a way that ensures remedial measures are actually taken. The WRC’s assessment of the MOU, and the steps that Columbia and other brands must now require Shahi to take for its implementation, are as follows:
- Termination of Managers, Supervisors and Employees Responsible for Violence. The MOU states that Shahi 1) has now suspended from the factory all but one of the individuals identified in the WRC’s report as responsible for the violence, and 2) will complete its disciplinary procedure against these individuals on June 29. The suspensions, which the WRC has confirmed, are an important step; however, this will not constitute full remediation unless Shahi follows through by permanently dismissing these violent individuals. The expectation the union reported from meeting with Shahi, and the expectation of the WRC, is that Shahi will permanently terminate them within the next week. Columbia and other brands must require that Shahi do so – there can be no adequate remediation of the violence these individuals committed (and therefore no compliance with university codes) if they return to the factory or remain in Shahi’s employ. There is also one supervisor, identified in the WRC’s report as directing multiple violent attacks, who was not suspended. This supervisor must likewise be terminated.
- Reinstatement and Compensation of Workers. In the MOU, Shahi also agreed to reinstate on June 27 – and has previously committed to provide full back pay to – all 15 workers it unlawfully expelled from the factory. With the offending managers now removed from the factory, the workers are willing to return and it is imperative that they be able to do so without suffering harassment or other adverse treatment. Shahi must be held strictly responsible by brands for treatment of these workers on their return, including any harassment, whether by managers, supervisors, or other employees (such as Shahi incited against the workers during the violence in April). The WRC has asked Columbia and other brands to require Shahi to provide access to the factory, for the WRC and buyers, to observe the return of these workers, and we anticipate that this access will be provided. Also, Columbia and other brands should require Shahi to provide written confirmation of the amounts and method of calculation of the back pay and ensure that it is provided by the company’s next pay day, along with all other agreed-upon compensation as stated in the MOU.
- Freedom of Association Announcement. Shahi’s president agreed verbally in the meeting with the union to make an announcement to all employees, at the time of the workers’ return on June 27, committing the company to respect freedom of association and prohibit harassment. The content of this statement, and the manner in which it is presented, will determine its effectiveness in reassuring workers that management will not repeat its attacks on workers. The WRC will observe the statement and assess its adequacy.
- Union Recognition and Collective Negotiation. Crucially, Shahi also made commitments in the MOU to recognize the union’s role as a representative of the factory’s workers and to meet with the union on a monthly basis to negotiate over workplace issues. Columbia and other brands should require that, before July 30, Shahi hold the first of these monthly negotiating sessions with the union. The WRC will closely monitor and report on Shahi’s adherence to these commitments, which are essential to restoring freedom of association at this factory.
It is Columbia’s responsibility as a university licensee to require Shahi to take the steps enumerated above, in order to implement the MOU and fully remediate the violence and other abuses of workers’ rights that have occurred. We appreciate universities’ engagement with Columbia in recent days. We will issue our next update later this week, after the workers’ scheduled date of return to the factory.
Worker Rights Consortium