Workers Who Were Beaten Return to Columbia Supplier Factory in India, Now Violent Managers and Supervisors Must Go
June 28, 2018
Earlier this week, the WRC issued an update to our June 20 report on severe 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, Shahi Exports, that supplies the university licensee, Columbia Sportswear, and other major brands. As we indicated in our update, on June 25, Shahi met with the workers’ union and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which, if implemented thoroughly and appropriately, has the potentialto bring about an adequate resolution of these violations.
Yesterday we saw the successful implementation of the first elements of the MOU between Shahi and the workers’ union, when the 15 workers who had been brutally beaten, received death threats, and were suspended from the Shahi Unit 8 factory, returned to their jobs at the factory, without incident or harassment. The workers’ return was observed inside the factory by representatives of the WRC, the licensee Columbia, and three of the other brands that do business with Shahi, Abercrombie and Fitch, Benetton, and H&M. Shahi committed that the returning workers will receive, by the next pay day, full back pay since April 4, when they were violently driven from the factory, as well as compensation for personal property taken from them during this attack.
The peaceful accomplishment of this crucial step was due, in large part, to the fact that nearly all of those who bear primary responsibility for the violence and other ugly abuses against these workers – seven of the eight Shahi managers, supervisors, and other employees named as responsible in the WRC’s report – have, for the moment, been suspended by Shahi and removed from the factory. If, instead of being permanently terminated, which is the only appropriate result, given the violence they have directed and committed against workers, these individuals were to remain employed by Shahi (much less return to this factory), this would severely undermine the progress made under the MOU, prevent a resolution to this case, and exacerbate the risk of future violation and abuses against these workers.
Yesterday, Shahi also issued a formal announcement to all of the factory’s employees apologizing for the April 4 incident. In its announcement, Shahi has, in fact, acknowledged that the claims its managers have made up until now about the violence on April 4 were false. Shahi managers previously claimed that the 15 returning union members were responsible for, and participated in, the violence – Shahi’s announcement admits that these union members “have not committed any wrong whatsoever.” Shahi’s managers claimed the violence occurred outside the Unit 8 factory and that managers and supervisors were not involved – Shahi’s announcement “expresses [Shahi’s] regret to the incident that occurred on 4.4.18 in our unit.” (Emphasis added.)
With the announcement, Shahi has de facto acknowledged that the responsibility for the violence rests, not with the returning union members, but with the actual offending parties — its own factory managers, supervisors, and the employees they incited to attack other workers. The only question now is whether Shahi will, as it must, terminate these individuals for the violence and other abuses they inflicted on the workers who have now returned to the plant.
Columbia and other brands must decide whether they will require Shahi to terminate these violent individuals, or whether they will knowingly allow this supplier to employ managers, supervisors, and employees who beat, issue death threats against and otherwise abuse workers – which, on Columbia’s part, would constitute a very serious and ongoing violation of university labor standards. The WRC continues to urge Columbia and other brands doing business with Shahi Exports to require that Shahi terminate all eight of the managers and supervisors named in the WRC’s report as responsible for the violence and other abuses on April 4. Shahi and Columbia’s noncompliance with university codes of conduct will not be adequately resolved until this occurs.
We very much appreciate universities’ ongoing engagement with Columbia on this matter. We will issue another update next week and report on whether Shahi has terminated or continues to employ the managers and supervisors who committed and directed violence against workers producing university licensed goods.
Worker Rights Consortium