Russell Athletic has agreed to rehire 1,200 workers in Honduras who
lost their jobs when Russell closed their factory soon after the
workers had unionized, according to a report in The New York Times. Russell has long contended the plant was closed due to the economic downturn and not because of unionizing efforts.

Since Russell closed the factory in January 2007, United Students Against Sweatshops has initiated a nationwide campaign across college campuses against Russell. The Times report noted that the movement persuaded the administrations of Boston College, Columbia, Harvard, New York University, Stanford, Michigan, North Carolina and 89 other colleges and universities to sever or suspend their licensing agreements with Russell.

Union activists eventually picketed the N.B.A. finals in Orlando and Los Angeles this year to protest the league’s licensing agreement with Russell. They also distributed fliers inside The Sports Authority stores and sent Twitter messages to customers of Dick’s Sporting Goods to urge them to boycott Russell products. Last May, a top union VP from Honduras attended the annual shareholder meeting of Berkshire Hathaway, the parent of Russell Corp., and claimed she received death threats for helping lead the union. Russell denied the allegation.

Russell’s agreement was reached with the Worker Rights Consortium and union leaders in Honduras over the weekend. Besides agreeing to reinstate the dismissed workers and open a new plant in Honduras as a unionized factory, it pledged not to fight unionization at its seven existing factories there.

In a statement Russell released jointly with the apparel workers’ union in Honduras, the company said the agreement was “intended to foster workers’ rights in Honduras and establish a harmonious” relationship.

“This agreement represents a significant achievement in the history of the apparel sector in Honduras and Central America,” the joint statement said.

John Shivel, a spokesman for Russell and Fruit of the Loom, told The New York Times, “We are very pleased with the agreement between Russell Athletic and the Workers Rights Consortium, and look forward to its implementation.”

He declined to discuss why Russell changed its positioning.

“It’s a very important breakthrough,” Mel Tenen, who oversees licensing agreements for the University of Miami, the first school to sever ties with Russell, told The New York Times.”It’s not often that a major licensee will take such a necessary and drastic step to correct the injustices that affected its workers. This paves the way for us to seriously consider reopening our agreement with Russell.”