WRC Update: Jerzees de Honduras

To:Primary Contacts, WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova
Date:January 16, 2009
Re:WRC Update: Jerzees de Honduras

Attachment: WRC Letter to Russell re Suspension of Closure – 1-16-09.pdf
Attachment: WRC Letter to Russell re Threats of Violence – 1-16-09.pdf

Attached, please find a letter sent today by the WRC to Russell Corporation. The letter asks Russell to suspend the closure process at Jerzees de Honduras until universities have had the opportunity to review both the WRC’s and FLA’s conclusions as to the legitimacy of the closure decision. We recognize that when the WRC and FLA are involved in a case, universities that are affiliated with both organizations frequently wish to consider both organizations’ reports before drawing conclusions.

As you know, in November, the WRC issued a report finding that the decision to close the facility was motivated at least in part by hostility to workers’ exercise of their associational rights, was therefore in violation of university codes of conduct, and should be reversed. Russell responded by asking universities to withhold judgment on the case until a second inquiry, undertaken by the FLA, is complete. However, despite the fact that the FLA has not yet issued its report, and despite the fact that Russell has asked universities to suspend any action until the FLA process is complete, the company has proceeded full steam ahead with the closure process at the factory: Russell has already terminated more than half of the workforce and, apparently, plans to close the facility permanently as early as next week. If final closure is effected, a reversal of the closure process will become far more difficult – even if this is the remedy universities conclude is needed, once they have reviewed the WRC’s and the FLA’s conclusions and recommendations. If Russell proceeds to close the factory next week, they will create a fait accompli and render university codes of conduct and the monitoring process effectively irrelevant.

We understand that Russell expected a report from the FLA sooner than this, but it is nonetheless the case that Russell chose to ask universities to wait for the FLA process to run its course; it seems clear then that it is incumbent upon Russell to show the same patience the company has asked of universities. In view of this, we believe a suspension of the closure process is warranted, pending university consideration of the FLA as well as the WRC report. This is what we have asked of Russell.

There is an additional, more urgent, reason to suspend closure. I have attached a second letter to Russell, sent today, which concerns threats of violence against leaders of the union that represents the workers at Jerzees de Honduras. These threats have arisen because the union’s leadership has been blamed for the closure of the factory and the loss of 1,800 jobs – a reality attributable at least in part to repeated statements by Russell managers that the plant would close because of the union. Threats against labor rights advocates in Honduras must be taken seriously because of the long history of such violence in the country, including the murder last year of Altagracia Fuentes, leader of the largest Honduran labor federation. The WRC, along with eight other labor rights and human rights groups, filed a petition this week with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking protective measures for the union leaders. We are asking Russell to weigh in on behalf of this petition and also to communicate to the Honduran government concerning the situation. We fear that if the factory is shut down before protections are in place for these individuals, the chances of violence will increase significantly. Indeed, threats against worker leaders at the factory have been specifically linked to the date of closure.

Even if Russell bore no responsibility for the climate of tension in the community, it would be appropriate for the company to take prophylactic measures in these circumstances. In this case, however, Russell bears a special degree of responsibility, because the dozens of statements by Russell factory managers and supervisors blaming the union for the closure have played a role in fueling anger against the union leaders. I want to be clear that we have no reason whatsoever to believe that anyone in Russell management, or any outside party connected with Russell, is the author of any of these threats. Nonetheless, we believe Russell has a responsibility to help ensure that strong measures are taken to protect the individuals under threat and that Russell should not exacerbate the situation by shutting down the factory before those protections are in place.

I wanted you to be aware of our request that Russell suspend the closure process at Jerzees de Honduras, pending university consideration of all applicable investigative findings and pending the implementation of necessary measures to protect the union leaders from potential violence. Please feel free to contact me if you have any thoughts or questions.

We appreciate your continued attention to this difficult case.

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