Update: Russell Athletic

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:October 15, 2007
Re:Update: Russell Athletic

We have received and reviewed the audit of the Jerzees Choloma factory performed by A & L Group, Inc. (ALGI). We have also reviewed the corrective action plan on which Russell Athletic and the FLA have agreed. (These documents are available on the FLA website, in case you have not received them.)

ALGI has concurred with the WRC’s findings on the central issue in this case: the targeted mass firings of trade unionists at Jerzees Choloma. It also appears that the WRC and the FLA are in general agreement on the proper remedy: reinstatement with back pay for the fired unionists. We are glad to see this and we presume that Russell now intends to proceed with haste to commence reinstatement.

We are unclear on some aspects of the corrective action plan the FLA has circulated. For example, it is not apparent from the plan document whether Russell’s commitment to reinstatement applies to the union members fired en masse on September 14, 2007. This recently fired group of workers is not mentioned in the ALGI report. It appears that there may also be some areas of disagreement between the WRC and the FLA on some aspects of the remediation process (and on some issues at the factory unrelated to associational rights), disagreements which we assume can be resolved.

In order to clear up ambiguities and to try to resolve any areas of disagreement on the remediation process, and in order to ensure that remediation is implemented and monitored in the most effective and efficient manner, I have proposed to the FLA that the two organizations combine efforts and work jointly as remediation proceeds.

An issue that will need further attention as part of this process is the planned closure of the factory. ALGI concluded that the closure, despite the suspicious timing, is wholly unrelated to the mass firing of workers in retaliation for their decision to unionize. This conclusion appears to be based on a company document indicating that the factory was targeted for closure last year, before the unionization effort began. Russell has not shared this document with the WRC and we cannot pass judgment until we have had an opportunity to review it.

However, regardless of the motivation behind the closure, Russell clearly intends to proceed and close the factory – and this has implications for the reinstatement process. Russell has made it clear to workers at the factory that it is expanding production at a nearby facility, Jerzees de Honduras, and that many of the workers at Jerzees Choloma will have an opportunity to move to that factory, in the context of Jerzees Choloma’s closure. The union at Jerzees Choloma has informed us that many of its fired members would prefer not to return to Jerzees Choloma at all, given Russell’s plan to proceed with closure, and would instead prefer to be reinstated to Russell’s employ through an immediate transfer to Jerzees de Honduras. It is entirely reasonable that these workers want to avoid further uncertainty about their future employment, given what Russell has already put them through. We will therefore recommend to Russell that all of the union members fired from Jerzees Choloma be given the choice of whether they wish to go back to Jerzees Choloma or be reinstated, instead, to Jerzees de Honduras. We have asked the FLA to join us in this recommendation.

Jerzees de Honduras has also unlawfully fired members of a trade union recently formed at that factory. The Russell remediation plan does not speak to this directly, but we hope there will be agreement on the need to reinstate these workers as well. Russell has informed the CGT union confederation that it intends to recognize the union at Jerzees de Honduras, which is a positive sign.

Assuming remediation is achieved in full at Jerzees Choloma and Jerzees de Honduras, there are deeper issues that we believe will also require the attention of our affiliate universities. First, there is the issue of Russell’s refusal, up until the end of last week, to cooperate in any way with the WRC. Then there is the systematic and brazen nature of the violations in this case. These factories are under the direct control of Russell Athletic. If Russell had effectively informed its employees of their obligations under the law and university codes, and exerted proper oversight, the violations would not have occurred.

This raises serious concerns about Russell’s commitment, as a corporation, to comply with university codes and it poses challenging questions for the university community: How do we evaluate a licensee that acts in this manner? If a company that clearly knows the rules fails to prevent its employees from systematically violating them, is remediation at the factory level enough to restore faith in that company? How does the university community satisfy itself that Russell has changed its approach to workers’ rights and that similar violations will not occur in the future? These are difficult questions, requiring substantial reflection and dialogue, and I look forward to discussing them with you in the weeks ahead.

In the immediate term, we will work hard, hopefully in a joint process with the FLA, to make sure that we get these workers compensated for their lost pay and get them back to work. Obviously, the degree to which Russell follows through on its reinstatement commitments, and the degree to which it now commences meaningful cooperation with the WRC, will be significant factors as we look down the road at the broader issues and assess the company’s commitment to code compliance going forward.

We will keep you posted.

Scott Nova
Worker Rights Consortium
5 Thomas Circle NW
Washington DC 20005
ph 202 387 4884
fax 202 387 3292
[email protected]