WRC Finds Beatings, Death Threats at Indian Factory Supplying University Apparel to Columbia Sportswear

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date:June 20, 2018
Re:WRC Finds Beatings, Death Threats at Indian Factory Supplying University Apparel to Columbia Sportswear

A new report by the WRC has found that a garment factory in Bangalore, India, supplying university logo apparel to Columbia Sportswear (as well as non-collegiate clothing to Abercrombie & Fitch, Benetton, and H&M), engaged in vicious retaliation against workers’ exercise of fundamental labor rights – including physical beatings; death threats; gender, caste, and religion-based abuse; threats of mass termination; and the expulsion from the factory of 15 worker activists.

As detailed in today’s report, the WRC found that managers and supervisors of the factory:

  • Called a male worker (whose mother also works at the factory) a “son of a whore,” threatened to send thugs to kill his family, and then led and directed his beating;
  • Told a female worker, “It won’t be a sin if people kill you and get rid of you[;] [y]ou should be shot and disposed of,” and then directed other workers to “kill her,” leading to her being beaten, nearly strangled, and hospitalized overnight.
  • Stated about another female worker, “These whores are trying to close the factory. Beat her and kill her,” before this worker was also beaten, had her clothes torn, and was robbed.
  • Told a male worker, “Your caste is only fit to clean bathrooms. How dare you ask for an increase in wages?” before leading other employees in beating and robbing him.
  • Said of another female worker before she was beaten, “Her caste is meant to burn dead people and that is what she should be doing. Beat her and throw her out.”

The WRC has identified eight managers and supervisors who were responsible for these actions, which occurred on April 4, 2018.

The factory, which employs nearly 3,000 workers, is owned by Columbia supplier Shahi Export Pvt. Ltd. and is known as Unit 8. The violence occurred in the course of a deliberate effort by Shahi to repress the organization of a union at Unit 8 and, relatedly, prevent an increase in wages.

Shahi is India’s largest garment manufacturer with more than US $850 million in annual revenue. Through its other production facilities in India, Shahi supplies many other major brands and retailers, including American Eagle, C&A, Children’s Place, Gap, Inditex (Zara), Marks & Spencer, Primark, Puma, PVH (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger), Tesco, Uniqlo, VF (Vans and other brands), and Walmart. Workers at Unit 8 earn an estimated average hourly wage of US $0.62. Earlier this year, Shahi aggressively – and successfully – lobbied the government of the state where the Unit 8 factory is located to cancel a planned increase in the minimum wage for garment workers.

The WRC has shared the findings and recommendations in this report with Shahi, Columbia, and other brands and requested that they indicate the steps they would take to address the assaults, death threats, and other abuses committed by Shahi managers. Unfortunately, while Shahi has agreed, in response to the WRC’s findings, to reinstate the workers who were the direct victims of the violence, Shahi has not agreed to take – and Columbia and other brands have not required Shahi to take – the basic steps necessary to ensure that workers are able to return safely to the factory and that their fundamental right of freedom of association is restored.

Shahi refuses to recognize the workers’ union and engage in collective bargaining over their labor conditions, both of which are essential if the workers’ associational rights are to be vindicated, and compliance with university codes of conduct is to be achieved. Most troublingly, Columbia and other buyers have refused to require Shahi to terminate the eight managers and supervisors who assaulted the workers and/or directed others to do so.

Columbia and other brands are, instead, siding with Shahi’s positon that it should not have to take any disciplinary action against these individuals unless they are found responsible by Shahi itself – or by the local police (the same police who came to the factory at management’s request; who stood by and watched while the workers were beaten; and who, nearly three months later, have arrested no one). For obvious reasons, Shahi management cannot objectively investigate its own responsibility for violence against workers. For equally obvious reasons, police who watch crimes being committed and refuse to do their duty are also not a credible factfinder. Thus, the current position of Columbia and other brands effectively authorizes Shahi to take no disciplinary action it doesn’t choose to take – which is why every manager and supervisor involved in attacking the workers is still gainfully employed by Shahi and still in a position of authority over numerous workers, including workers making university logo apparel.

The brutal violence and other abuses against workers at Shahi Unit 8 represent severe violations of university labor standards. Columbia, after being informed of the violations, has failed to require Shahi to take the necessary remedial actions based on the findings of the WRC’s investigation. Columbia is thus in violation of its obligations to its university licensors. As a result of the inaction of Columbia and other buyers, Shahi continues to employ managers and supervisors who inflict beatings, death threats, and culturally bigoted and gender-based abuse on employees who seek simply to exercise rights protected by university standards.

The WRC will continue to urge Columbia to fulfill its responsibilities to universities and to the workers who make its university logo products, and will continue to engage with Shahi directly, and with other brands, in order to bring about a resolution that fully remedies the violations at Unit 8.

As always, we are available to you to discuss this deeply troubling case.

Scott Nova
Executive Director
Worker Rights Consortium

[email protected]