Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WRC Letter Concerning FLA Report on BJ&B

The FLA released a bogus report on BJ&B and sent it to unversities. Here is the WRC response:

To: Parties Concerned About the Announced Closure of BJ&B
From: Scott Nova
Date: April 5, 2007
Re: FLA report on BJ&B

On April 2, the Fair Labor Association posted on its website a report concerning the labor rights situation at BJ&B. Nike sent this report to universities early yesterday. The FLA circulated the document to universities late yesterday afternoon. Because the report contradicts the WRC's findings with regard to the current situation at BJ&B, several universities have asked the WRC to provide our thoughts on the document.

It is difficult to know how to interpret the FLA report — because the FLA's description of the report's purpose is at odds with the contents of the document, because it is not clear what type of inquiry was conducted by the consultant who prepared the report, and because the report does not appear to consider any of the evidence of labor rights violations that has been brought to light by other organizations. The sources of confusion are as follows:

  1. The FLA website prefaces the report with a disclaimer stating that the report "makes no judgments nor reaches any conclusions." However, the report itself makes a series of sweeping statements that can only be described as judgments and conclusions. These statements directly contradict findings of the WRC, including our finding that BJ&B's parent company has acted in bad faith and has violated the associational rights of workers. For example, the report states: "Good faith prevailed in the negotiating process between BJ&B and its union." The final sentence of the report states: "Our opinion is that the process of definitive closure of the enterprise BJ&B, S.A., complies with Dominican laws…and that…the rights of workers and of the union have been respected." It is difficult to see how a reader should interpret such statements, other than as conclusions. To complicate matters further, Nike is now circulating the report to universities, and other stakeholders, without the disclaimer. Thus, whether or not it was the FLA's intention, the report will likely be read by people on Nike's distribution list as a statement of official findings by the FLA. If the FLA is not prepared to stand behind the statements in the report as credible conclusions based on the evidence, it should retract or otherwise clarify them so as to avoid creating public confusion on the issues.
  2. The report does not say anything about what research went into its preparation. There are no references in the report to any interviews or discussions with union leaders, union members or individual workers. The General Secretary of the BJ&B union's national federation informed us on April 4 that he was not even aware that the FLA had conducted an inquiry. The only documents specifically cited in the report are a letter from the head of the local union to the government and a resolution issued by the Dominican State Secretariat of Labor. The report makes no reference to any of the communications that have been issued by union leaders that allege malfeasance on the part of BJ&B nor to other crucial documents (for example: agreements relinquishing the right to negotiate that the company required workers to sign in order to obtain legally mandated severance that should have been paid without condition). In fact, the report does not even acknowledge that there is a dispute at the factory, although the dispute is very much in evidence. All of this, combined with the FLA's unusual disclaimer that the report draws no conclusions, suggests that the FLA's consultant was not asked to conduct a comprehensive inquiry. Instead, he appears to have limited his research to conversations with government officials and to a review of government documents and of one letter from the local union head to the government. Nonetheless, conclusions are drawn as if a comprehensive inquiry had been carried out.
  3. The FLA, in describing the consultant who prepared the report, failed to note that this individual, Milton Ray Guevara, is an attorney representing a major Dominican employer. As recently as two months ago, Mr. Ray Guevara was acting as a representative of Grupo M, the country's largest private employer and one of the largest apparel producers in the region. We respect Mr. Ray Guevara as a former State Secretary of Labor with obvious expertise on Dominican labor law and we have been able to work with him constructively in his capacity as an advocate for Grupo M. However, his employment at Grupo M creates a potential conflict with his role as a labor rights investigator and the FLA should have disclosed Mr. Ray Guevara's industry affiliations — rather than describing him solely as an academic, former government official and "independent consultant."
  4. The report cites the State Secretariat of Labor's conclusion that the factory has met its obligations under the Dominican Labor Code, but it seems that no effort was made to confirm independently that this conclusion was valid. Labor rights monitoring organizations like the FLA and the WRC exist because governments often fail to faithfully enforce their labor laws. A government seal of approval is not proof of a factory's compliance, until and unless the underlying facts have been shown to corroborate the government's conclusions.
  5. The report does not address any of the evidence of labor rights violations that has been brought to light over the last several weeks ( here, for reference, is the WRC's analysis of the severance dispute, sent to universities on March 28). It is not clear whether this evidence was for some reason placed outside the scope of the FLA's inquiry or was simply dismissed without comment by the FLA's consultant. In either case, what appear to be firm conclusions stated in the report cannot be viewed as credible in the absence of any explanation for why a large volume of contrary evidence was ignored.
  6. The report places great emphasis on a letter from the local union General Secretary to the government, but fails to mention that statements in this letter were contradicted by another letter issued by the same individual, and by numerous communications from other union leaders.
  7. The disconnect between the situation on the ground and the narrow perspective of the FLA report can be effectively illustrated by juxtaposing the following two facts:

    1. The FLA report concludes that the union has no objection to the factory's closure and no objection to the manner in which the closure process has been handled.
    2. Two-thirds of the union leadership committee, virtually every rank-and-file union member, and 60% of the workforce have signed a petition decrying the company's handling of the closure process and demanding that the factory be re-opened.
    This petition is not mentioned in the FLA report, nor are any of the numerous other examples of communications from union leaders objecting to the closure and the closure process.

We have proposed a meeting with the FLA in the hope of clarifying these issues.

Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to discuss this information.

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

Monday, April 09, 2007

Letter from Hermosa Workers

Today's fact is a letter we received from the workers of the Hermosa factory.

San Salvador, March 23, 2007

Dear friends from the organizations that have supported the struggles of the former Hermosa Manufacturing workers

To United Students Against Sweatshops, USAS

We send warm greetings and wish for your success in all of your efforts.

We would first like to thank you for all of the support that you have
offered for almost two years as we have struggled for justice after
our factory closed. We have walked down a long and difficult road
that has been full of limitations, but we have also established
judicial precedents in El Salvador, a compensation fund that is
insufficient but is also a precedent, and we are now tremendously
happy to hear that the administrations at many different universities
are taking a stronger position against the brands. We believe that
this is fruit of the struggle of the student organizations and other
like-minded groups who have worked to change the position of the
universities and to spread the word about our demands.

These advances fill us with encouragement to continue our struggle.
We are facing very serious economic difficulties in our homes and many
of the members of our group that has been working on this struggle
have health problems. However, when we receive news about our case
and when we learn that the universities are taking a look at their
commercial relationships with the brands that were involved with
Hermosa, it recharges our energy and our conviction to find justice
and to continue on.

We would therefore encourage you to continue with your struggle. We
will continue to do the same as we begin a new legal process with
regards to the sale of the building in which Hermosa operated, which
is property of Hermosa Manufacturing, whose primary shareholder is
Joaquin Salvador Montalvo Machado. This person is also the owner of
MB Knitting Mills, a factory that continues normal operations after
receiving a transfer of goods that were sold by Hermosa Manufacturing
to third parties.

Despite out limitations, we maintain our hope that your struggle and
ours will have a final outcome that benefits all of the affected
workers. There is no way to calculate the price of this struggle
which has included our health, our efforts, and our dedication.

Group of former workers of Hermosa Manufacturing

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quote for Today

Here is a quote from Yenny Perez, a worker from BJ&B who is currently in the US doing speaking events at Niketowns and university campuses:

“I think the closure has been planned for a long time. I believe they are doing this because of the union, to get rid of the union. I know that they had work. There was plenty of work we could have done. Before they closed, no one knew anything because they didn't tell us anything. There were just rumors that they would abandon the factory. Then they just announced it [the closure] all of a sudden.”

If you would like more information about speaking events or actions in your area, please contact me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PT Tong Yang Fact

PT Tong Yang, a shoe factory located in Tambun Bekasi, Indonesia, has been a long-time exclusive supplier of Reebok, which is now owned by Adidas, with orders dating back to 1989. It has received many production awards for being one of Reebok’s best suppliers. The workers are organized under Serikat Pekerja Seluruh Indonesia Reformasi (SPSI Reformasi) and the workers and management have a long history of negotiating with each other in good faith. However, this was all placed in jeopardy in April of 2006 when Adidas began reducing its orders and demanding significant increases in efficiency from the factory. In June, Adidas asked the company to make considerable investments in new production machinery and provide a pilot line for the lean system. The factory spent 150 billion Rupiah (roughly $16.5 million dollars) to update the machinery and layouts and conduct worker trainings as required by Adidas. Unfortunately, despite this sizable investment, Adidas has shifted a majority of its orders away from this unionized factory, choosing instead to source from factories in which workers are not able to freely associate. This response, which we have seen time and time again in factories producing licensed apparel, can only be interpreted as a form of cutting and running – a shifting of orders from one factory to others with inferior labor conditions.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Facts of the PT Panarub Case

PT Panarub, Indonesia is one of the world's largest suppliers of high-end sports shoes and cleats for Adidas. For the past several years this facility of 12,000 employees has made shoes for world-renowned soccer players and teams, including the University of Wisconsin. The factory produces almost exclusively for Adidas and Adidas operates one of their main product research and design offices inside the PT Panarub factory grounds. On October 15th, 2005 approximately 50 employees from one of the two unions at PT Panarub, Perbupas, engaged in a one-day strike calling for higher holiday bonuses and for wages to be raised in line with inflation. Perbupas gave notice for the strike in advance, as required by Indonesian law. The strike followed a series of unsuccessful attempts by the union to reach resolution to the issues through collective bargaining. Shortly after the strike 33 of the top union officers and leaders of Perbupas received letters informing them they were being dismissed from the factory. The Worker Rights Consortium's investigation has confirmed that the 33 Perbupas leaders were illegally terminated. (see memo at www.workersrights.org) This is further supported by the recent findings and recommendations of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (known as “Komnas HAM”) which found in the case of each of the 33 workers that the terminations constituted violations of both Indonesia’s labor code and human rights law.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Fact to Kick-off the Week

This is not just an issue that involves million dollar contracts and monitoring organizations. People’s livelihoods are on the line. Last month the closure of BJ&B, a factory in the Dominican Republic that produces baseball caps for adidas and nike, was announced.

Sebastian Garcia has worked at BJ&B for 16 years. Sebastian is 56 years old. He is trained at operating many of the plants’ production machines and helps instruct other workers. Here is his story in his own words before the closure of BJ&B was announced:

Finding a new job if BJ&B closes will not be easy. I am an old man now. Who will want to hire an old man like me? That is what I am worried about.

The family needs an income. For the food especially, and to make sure the kids are able to go to school, to study. If I was younger, I could move away to try to find a job. But I have a family, so I can’t do that. Of course, I will look for work. But not only am I of an advanced age, I am also a known trade unionist. The times coming would be very hard. I am worried the children could go hungry.

We have discussed this in the family. I said that soon I may not be working. One of the kids says that they could leave school and start working. But I am afraid even she could not get hired because I am known to be a trade unionist. One of my son’s in law worked at BJ&B for six years, and they fired him because of my involvement in the union. They fired me too, but I was able to get my job back.

Why did I join the union? There were so many abuses in the factory. The supervisors screamed at us and mistreated us. They forced you to do work extra hours, even when you were sick. That happened to me. One day, I was so sick in the stomach. I could not eat. And I went to the bathroom and I was losing blood from both ends. I told my supervisor I need to go to the hospital. He said you must stay and work. Then he said you can go home if you want but then don’t come back, because you will be fired. So I went to the hospital anyway and I was there in recuperation for nine days. They finally let me come back to work.

In fact, this happened several times, about 5 times. One time at the factory, I was trying to lift a heavy box and I cut a ventricle nerve. At night, I could not eat. And the next day I went to work and I was so ill. I was losing blood again. I told my boss I need to go to the hospital. He did not want me to go. I finally went to a hospital in the Capital, and they kept me one month. But the company refused to pay my disability leave. Also, I lost so much blood that I needed to have an infusion of new blood. It was very expensive. And the company refused to give the paperwork that I needed for the hospital go cover it under the social security system. They told me it was too expensive. This happened 7 years ago.

At this time, some people were talking about organizing a union. I told my story and they asked me to be a member of the leadership committee to organize the union. I said yes. Since that day, I have always participated in the union. In fact, I never missed a meeting. During the time that the union was formed, I was fired, along with other people who were involved. But after the international pressure, we got our jobs back and continued.

Everything changed with the union. Before, whenever a worker made any kind of error, the supervisor would shake you and scream. This stopped. There had been extra hours which were forced and sometimes not paid. After the union, the worker did not do overtime if he didn’t agree to, and the company didn’t demand it. We also got various changes through the collective agreement. They increased how much they will pay for overtime. There was a benefit for food. There were many benefits. If a worker was injured and needed medical attention, the company paid for much of it. There are many things we achieved in the agreement, which I can’t remember all of them right now.

If the factory closes, the workers will not be able to find work, because this is really the only big employer. The people with children really need the work. People need to pay for their homes if they don’t own them. Without work, they could lose their homes. If a mother has children who are sick, they won’t be able to get medical care from “social security” because you have to be employed to get that.

In my case, we have so many expenses – the electricity for the light, the telephone, food, paying for the school for all of the children. I don’t know how we could pay for them. So I am praying that BJ&B stays open.

The problem is that there are no other factories that are hiring here. Especially, there are no other places that will hire women.

I want to say to the brand, like Nike that they should do everything that they can to keep this factory open. In this moment, we the people of this community, we need this factory here. We should not be blamed, and we should not be punished by loss of our job, because we tried to organize a union to protect ourselves.

We have made these products, which we know are of the highest quality, no matter what any one says, for many many years. We put our care into making these hats. The brands and Yupoong, they owe it to our community to stay here.”

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday's Fact

New press links keep popping up, here's another from the 19th:

Wisconsin Public Radio:

For audio-(Scroll down to "Students Call on UW to Cut Ties with Adidas")

For article-(Scroll down to "Students Call on UW to Cut Ties with Adidas")

Today's Fact:
Adidas has violated workers' right to freedom of association in the BJ&B factory of the Dominican Republic. The FLA and WRC not only agree that this violation has occurred, but are also working together to resolve the situation, but the brands, including adidas are basically absent from the process. Below is an excerpt from a Clean Clothes Campaign Report on the FLA/WRC cooperation at BJ&B. The memo is from June 2003, and since then, the situation at BJ&B has only worsened.


The Fair Labour Association (FLA) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) have both released reports on the positive resolution of worker rights violations at the BJ&B factory in the Dominican Republic.

The reports indicate that despite their fundamental differences about code monitoring and certification issues, the FLA and WRC were able to cooperate in facilitating respect for freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively at the factory, which produces baseball caps for Nike, Reebok, Adidas and a number of US universities.

On March 26, 2003, a first collective bargaining agreement was signed between Sindicato de Trabajadores de BJ&B and management at the factory. The workers achieved a 10 percent wage increase, which will come into effect in January 2004, plus improved health and safety protections, a productivity bonus and other monetary incentives.

The WRC first became involved in the case in December 2001, when workers at BJ&B filed a complaint, charging their employer with illegally firing 20 union leaders. The FLA became involved in early 2002 when Nike, Reebok and Adidas filed a joint third party complaint with the FLA, charging their supplier with violating freedom of association provisions of the FLA code of conduct.

The intervention of the FLA, the WRC and brand and university buyers resulted in the reinstatement of fired union leaders, as well as some improvements in factory conditions. BJ&B finally recognized the union in October 2002.

-Clean Clothes Campaign, Codes Memo 14, June 2003