WRC Report on Jerzees Choloma (Honduras)

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:October 3, 2007
Re:WRC Report on Jerzees Choloma (Honduras)

As we reported to you in our memo of September 20, the WRC has conducted an investigation of Jerzees Choloma, a factory in Honduras owned and operated by Russell Athletic. Click here to view a WRC investigative report concerning this case. The WRC will be hosting a conference call this Friday morning at 10:45 am Eastern to discuss the report and the current situation at the factory (see below for call details).

The WRC will issue two reports on this case. This first report deals exclusively with targeted firings of workers seeking to exercise their associational rights and with related violations. The second report, to be released shortly, addresses a number of other labor rights violations that we have identified at this facility, as well as Russell’s recent announcement concerning its plans to close the facility at the end of this year.

This case carries great urgency. On September 14, 2007, in the midst of the WRC’s investigation, the factory engaged in a targeted firing of approximately twenty-two workers who were attempting to re-constitute a trade union at the factory. A different group of workers had formed the original union earlier this year; the factory fired most of them. The more recent firings, on Sept. 14, happened 36 hours after the WRC, as part of its investigation, met with the union membership.

As discussed in depth in our investigative report, there is overwhelming evidence that workers at Jerzees Choloma were targeted for dismissal because of their union activities, in violation of Honduran law and university codes of conduct. What is particularly striking is the systematic nature of these firings. In March, 72 workers officially founded a union at Jerzees Choloma, following procedures set forth in Honduran law. By the middle of June, virtually all of these workers were gone from the factory. The overwhelming majority was fired; a small number of workers resigned. The largest group of firings, involving approximately 60 workers, began the day that management first obtained a full list of union members.

This report contains a series of recommendations, including immediate reinstatement of the fired workers. We have communicated this report to Russell Athletic and asked that they move without delay to implement these recommendations. However, as you may be aware, Russell Athletic has refused to cooperate with the WRC’s inquiry and has not responded to our communications. Given this posture, it seems clear that communications from Russell’s licensors will be necessary to secure full and timely remediation.

It is critical that these workers be offered reinstatement without further delay. This is particularly important with respect to those workers fired on September 14, since there is a substantially greater likelihood that these workers will be willing and able to return. As days and weeks pass, this likelihood decreases. Moreover, when retaliatory firings occur at a factory, it creates a climate of fear that has a severe chilling effect on the ability of other workers to exercise their associational rights. Immediate reinstatement is essential to ensure that all workers at Jerzees Choloma can exercise their rights, without fear of retaliation.

The Fair Labor Association has informed us that they have decided to commission their own investigation of Jerzees Choloma. We have offered to review our findings and evidence with the FLA. We welcome any additional information the FLA can uncover; at the same time, we are concerned that Russell will try to use the FLA’s inquiry as a justification for delaying reinstatement of the unlawfully fired workers. We hope this will not be the case.

The WRC will be holding a briefing for affiliate universities, by conference call, this Friday, October 5, at 10:45 am (Eastern Time). We will review our findings, answer questions, and discuss next steps. We invite you to participate in this phone conference. The call is scheduled to run 45 minutes to an hour. To join the call, dial 978-964-0031 and enter code 9119919.

Finally, it should be noted that T-Shirt International (TSI) is listed in factory disclosure data as sourcing apparel from this facility. At the WRC’s request, TSI sent a letter to Russell Athletic on September 27, expressing serious concern about the situation at the factory. They are awaiting a reply. We appreciate TSI’s responsiveness in this case.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to discuss this case prior to the conference call at 10:45 am on Friday.

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