WRC Update: Breakthrough at TOS Dominicana

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:August 19, 2008
Re:WRC Update: Breakthrough at TOS Dominicana

I am pleased to be able to report that a breakthrough has been achieved at the TOS Dominicana factory in the Domincan Republic. The factory is owned and operated by Hanes and produces fabric for t-shirts. Hanes is one of the key suppliers of t-shirts to university licensees. The WRC has been working on the case since the fall of 2006. The achievement outlined below reflects extraordinary courage and perseverance on the part of workers at this factory, who have endeavored for nearly two years to vindicate rights guaranteed them under Dominican law and applicable codes of conduct and who have withstood the combination of a powerful employer hostile to their efforts and a government initially unwilling to uphold the law.

On August 12, 2008, the factory signed a contract with a union representing the plant’s 1,000 workers. Management had unlawfully withheld recognition of the union since the spring of 2007, while carrying out a relentless campaign of coercion designed to thwart workers’ efforts to exercise their associational rights. Meanwhile, significant labor rights violations that catalyzed the workers’ organizing efforts persisted at the factory. The WRC documented the violations at TOS Dominicana in a report issued to universities last year and we have continued to work intensively on the case. We have engaged with executives at Hanes, union leaders, officials of the Dominican government, concerned leaders in the US Congress, officials of the US Departments of State and Labor, the staff of the Fair Labor Association (which Hanes joined recently in response to the criticism it has faced over the TOS case), and a range of US and international NGOs.

As a result of the WRC’s efforts, and pressure from the US government, the Dominican government finally took action last fall to verify the union’s claim to represent a majority of workers – the issue at the heart of the ongoing conflict. Despite dilatory tactics on the part of Hanes, the government’s official verification of the union’s majority status ultimately led to the negotiations that culminated in the contract signed last week. While the history of the case is badly checkered, Hanes deserves credit for reversing course and moving toward compliance with Dominican law and applicable codes of conduct.

There is a great deal of joy and relief among workers at the factory, where hundreds of supporters of the union have had to live in an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear for many months. Not only were workers able to finally win recognition for their union and address other labor rights problems at the factory, they also succeeded in negotiating a 10% wage increase. As you know, the negotiation of meaningful wage increases is extremely rare in the global apparel and textile industry.

The contract signed last week represents an extraordinary and heartening breakthrough for the workers at TOS and for the broader cause of promoting respect for labor rights in the global apparel industry. It is a breakthrough that could not have occurred without intervention under university codes of conduct. Most importantly, it is a breakthrough that is a testament to the bravery and resolve of workers at TOS Dominicana, who insisted on believing in their workplace rights, even when their employer and their government did not. It is also clear from the outcome of the case that Hanes is in the process of changing as a company, toward a more constructive approach to labor rights issues and we feel it is important to credit this progress

Breakthroughs of this kind are difficult to achieve and therefore rare – but they have an impact beyond the doors of a given factory and can serve as a foundation for broader progress. The support of universities and colleges for labor rights work helps make progress of this kind possible.

It is important to note that there are some issues at the factory that remain unresolved. The WRC will continue to monitor the situation and will work to ensure that these issues are addressed.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any thoughts or questions about this update.

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