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.”