Russell Athletic Mending Relations with Colleges

Russell Athletic said it is receiving favorable responses from colleges and universities across North America to the newly-released information it is providing to answer questions about the 2008 closure of its Jerzees de Honduras (JDH) manufacturing plant. So far, 19 of the country's universities have cut their ties to Russell over the allegations that the company closed a factory to retaliate against workers in Honduras who joined a union.


Russell has said the closing was in response to economic reasons and denied the anti-union allegations.  Complicating matters even more was a report by the Fair Labor Association, which supports the Russell position while suggesting at the same time that there was some labor strife at the factory in question.  Activist students, emboldened by past wins against other brands, seized upon the one aspect of the FLA report and another by a worker's rights group, while ignoring the primary assertion by the FLA that the reason for the closure was economically based.


“No one has ever disputed the economic facts – which we've repeatedly cited and that have been independently confirmed – that the global recession forced us to close one unionized plant – our JDH plant – and eight other non-union facilities,” said Russell EVP Gary Barfield. “The groups attacking us are concerned only about the union employees, not the 10,000 employees from the other eight plants whose livelihoods have been affected to the economic downturn. Russell is concerned about all of our displaced employees.”


In response to the allegations, Russell has invited a number of schools to tour its factories in Honduras to get a firsthand look at the conditions and have the chance to talk to workers. Russell management also attended and answered questions at the recent FLA University Advisory Board Annual Meeting. In addition, the company has requested to meet with administrators at any school at their convenience to tell its side of the story and share the facts about Russell's commitment to its employees. Several schools invited Russell to on-campus meetings, which are took place during March and April. Russell has established a website, www.russellsocialresponsibility.com, as a way to fulfill its promise to schools to keep them posted about the progress being made on the FLA recommendations.


Barfield explained many of the current activists' attacks use information based on events that happened in 2007 and extrapolating them forward to 2009 as if nothing changed in the interim.


Russell has taken full responsibility to correct those 2007 issues and took steps to remedy them. In January 2008, the Worker Rights Consortium sent a memo to all its member schools praising the company for making “very substantial progress.” The memo highlighted the fact that Russell's efforts to fix the problems had been “unusually successful” and that, “This was accomplished as a result of effective cooperation between management and the union.”


“Russell Athletic has received a great deal of positive feedback from our customers since we started responding to these outrageous charges – including support from schools that had cancelled contracts with Russell based on the allegations. We had a very strong CAMEX Show in California last week, meeting and doing business with customers,” Barfield said. “We have nothing to hide and we think the truth speaks for itself. No matter how much the more extreme advocacy groups protest, we will continue to protect our good name by countering these false allegations with the facts.”

About The Author

Russell Athletic Mending Relations with Colleges


Russell Athletic said it is receiving favorable responses
from colleges and universities across North America to the newly-released
information it is providing to answer questions about the 2008 closure of its
Jerzees de Honduras (JDH) manufacturing plant. Up to date, 19 of the country's
universities have cut their ties to clothing maker Russell Athletic over the
allegations that the company retaliated against workers in Honduras who
joined a union by closing the factory .

“For a number of months Russell Athletic kept silent as we worked with the
Fair Labor Association (FLA) and several Honduran social service groups to help
our displaced employees and implement a series of policy and procedural actions
included in an FLA-approved Action Plan,” said Russell Executive Vice
President Gary Barfield. “Unfortunately, Russell came under attack by
advocacy groups that ignore the facts and are in effect slandering our company
with false charges. We felt it necessary to respond to protect our company's
positive reputation.”

“No one has ever disputed the economic facts – which we've repeatedly cited and that
have been independently confirmed –
that the global recession forced us to close one unionized plant – our JDH plant – and eight other non-union
facilities,” Barfield continued. “The groups attacking us are
concerned only about the union employees, not the 10,000 employees from the
other 8 plants whose livelihoods have been affected to the economic downturn.
Russell is concerned about all of our displaced employees.”

The steps being taken by Russell amount to a new level of openness between
apparel manufacturers and colleges. Russell has invited a number of schools to
tour its factories in Honduras
to get a firsthand look at the conditions and have the chance to talk to
workers. Details on this fact-finding trip, expected to take place in April,
are now being finalized.

Russell management also attended and answered questions at the recent FLA
University Advisory Board Annual Meeting. In addition, the company has
requested to meet with administrators at any school at their convenience to
tell its side of the story and share the facts about Russell's commitment to its employees.
Several schools have invited Russell to on campus meetings, which are taking place
during March and April. Russell has also established a website,
www.russellsocialresponsibility.com, as a way to fulfill its promise to schools
to keep them posted about the progress being made on the FLA

Barfield said activists frustrated by the JDH closure are deliberately making
false charges that:

recommendations.


*  “Russell targeted JDH as the sole factory
in Central America it closed only because it
was unionized.” In fact, apparel manufacturers around the world are
suffering from the worst economic downturn in modern times – which began after the union was
already recognized – and
more than a year before the JDH closure became necessary. The JDH factory
suffered a dramatic decline in orders for the fleece products it made, leaving
less demand for products sewn there than at any of our other Honduran
factories. And it was the only one with a lease we could vacate immediately,
avoiding costs of more than $2 million. JDH is one of nine plants Russell has
closed in the past year, in addition to cutbacks at other facilities. All of
the other plants have been non-union. Again, no one has ever refuted these
facts.
* “Russell workers
toil in sweatshop conditions.” The truth is that all Russell factories in Central America are modern facilities and fully air
conditioned. Our plants offer our people such benefits as medical care, health
fairs, prenatal classes, and cafeterias offering healthy meals. More than 1,800
employees in Central America have over 10
years of continuous service with our company. People are loyal to companies
that treat them with dignity and respect.
* “Russell did not pay
workers at JDH their full salaries or severance.” The truth is that all
workers at our closed plants received all salary, severance and other benefits
owed to them under corporate policy and Honduran law. In fact, they each signed
forms indicating that they received payments from the company. This can be
verified with the Honduras Department of Labor. Additionally, Russell has gone
well beyond the basics to offer technical training and job placement counseling
to its displaced employees, even offering paid time off so they could attend
job interviews.
* “Russell has been
involved in death threats against union leaders.” The truth is the Workers
Rights Consortium acknowledges that there is absolutely no evidence connecting
Russell to these alleged threats, and in fact we have joined the WRC in
requesting the Honduran government, as well as the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, to take precautionary measures for union leaders'

Barfield explained many of the current activists'
attacks use information based on events that happened in 2007 and extrapolating
them forward to 2009 as if nothing changed in the interim.

Russell has taken full responsibility to correct those 2007 issues and took
steps to remedy them. In January 2008, the Worker Rights Consortium sent a memo
to all its member schools praising the company for making “very
substantial progress.” The memo highlighted the fact that Russell's efforts to fix the problems
had been “unusually successful” and that, “This was accomplished
as a result of effective cooperation between management and the union.”

“Russell Athletic has received a great deal of positive feedback from our
customers since we started responding to these outrageous charges – including support from schools
that had cancelled contracts with Russell based on the allegations. We had a
very strong CAMEX Show in California
last week, meeting and doing business with customers,” Barfield said.
“We have nothing to hide and we think the truth speaks for itself. No
matter how much the more extreme advocacy groups protest, we will continue to
protect our good name by countering these false allegations with the
facts.”

“Russell believes we can comply with the FLA recommendations and show the progress
made on our Continuous Improvement Process report, while at the same time
setting the record straight and correcting false charges,” Barfield said.
“The proof is in the progress reports we've
made to the FLA
– three since the start of
March – and in the other steps
we've taken to make sure
our customers have a comfort level with how we do business. Allowing the false
charges to go uncorrected not only damages our company's reputation, it places at risk the jobs of our
valued employees.”

About The Author

Thomas J. Ryan

Thomas J. Ryan Senior Business Editor | SGB Media tryan@sgbonline.com | 917.375.4699

Archives

Categories

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This