Freedom of Association in Honduras

Historic Agreement on Freedom of Association between Fruit of the Loom and CGT Union of Honduras

In 2009, Fruit of the Loom signed a historic agreement with the Central General de Trabajadores (CGT), an important labor union in Honduras that represents garment workers. This unprecedented agreement was the result of a year-long struggle by factory workers to require Fruit of the Loom to respect workers' right to organize and join a union after the company illegally retaliated against workers by closing a unionized factory.

Under the terms of this legally-binding agreement, Fruit of the Loom, which was producing university apparel at the factory through its subsidiary, Russell Athletic, agreed to:

  • open a new factory and offer jobs to the workers affected by the anti-union closure;
  • provide significant back wages to these workers for the year that they were out of work;
  • allow for training on freedom of association for factory management and employees;
  • allow union representatives to meet with employees at all of the corporation’s Honduran factories; and
  • establish a monitoring body to ensure compliance with the agreement and to avoid further violations of workers' right to organize.

This agreement was signed after a WRC investigation found that Russell and Fruit of the Loom closed the factory in violation of university codes of conduct, which require licensees' suppliers to respect workers' freedom of association. The closure eliminated the jobs of 1,200 workers after management stalled collective bargaining and informed workers that the factory was closing as a result of their decision to organize. After the WRC published its report, we engaged university affiliates on how Fruit of the Loom had violated its licensing agreements. Students called on university administrators to ensure the factory was reopened and to put an end to the anti-union retaliation. The company's initial failure to remedy the violations led to nearly 100 university affiliates severing their business relationships with Russell Athletic.

After facing significant pressure from universities and students, Fruit of the Loom negotiated an agreement with the Honduran union in November 2009. The agreement was significant not only because it remedied the violations that occurred but also because it has led, over the course of the following years, to significant progress in Honduran employers’ respect for freedom of association. As of 2022, close to 50 percent of all Honduran garment workers were employed at a factory where an independent union represents the workforce, and most of these workers receive the benefits of a signed collective bargaining agreement. Honduras is unique in this regard—not only in Central America but in the global garment industry where there are, unfortunately, very few examples of successful collective bargaining agreements at garment factories.

The significant benefits for workers that have resulted in Honduras were documented in a 2022 report by the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State. The report, Bargaining for Decent Work and Beyond, documents the notable gains made by Honduran workers over more than a decade following the signing of the agreement with Fruit of the Loom. The report demonstrates that, through collective bargaining, workers have won increased wages and benefits and a reduction of labor rights abuses, such as verbal harassment and gender-based violence.

The achievements that have been made in Honduras—where workers historically encountered significant repression from employers colluding with government officials—demonstrate the power of binding agreements to secure effective remedies for workers whose associational rights have been violated.