Russell Invites College Presidents, Chancellors on Fact-Finding Trip to Honduras

Mar 12, 2009, 14:00 ET from Russell Athletic

'We want to be transparent, we have nothing to hide and we think the truth will speak for itself'

ATLANTA, March 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Russell Athletic announced today it has invited the presidents and chancellors of approximately 20 colleges and universities that have cancelled contracts with the company on a fact-finding trip to Honduras to see the truth about the company's factory conditions and workforce.

"Our sincere hope is these long-time, valued customers will accept our invitation and visit our Honduran operations so they can see the conditions for themselves," said Russell Executive Vice President Gary Barfield, who sent the letter inviting schools on the trip. "We want to be transparent, we have nothing to hide and we think the truth will speak for itself."

"The activists making these misleading accusations have never been to Honduras, much less visited one of our plants," Barfield said. "The allegations are damaging and amount to a smear campaign that we are being forced to defend ourselves against to preserve our brand and the jobs of our valued employees at plants in Honduras and elsewhere."

Barfield pointed out that contrary to the charges being made, Russell had already recognized the union status at Jerzees de Honduras in October 2007, more than a year before the global economic downturn forced the closure of the plant. The Fair Labor Association, as well as an independent report it commissioned both agreed: it was "imperative" for Russell to close one of its three Honduran plants because of the loss of customer orders.

The independent report done by The Cahn Group, a corporate responsibility consulting firm, also confirmed the two reasons why this plant was chosen: 1) The need for products sewn there was lower than any of Russell's other factories. And 2) it was the only one with a lease that could be vacated immediately, avoiding unnecessary shutdown costs of more than $2 million.

Barfield said Russell acknowledged that in 2007, there had been some problems surrounding union recognition. "We admitted the mistakes made by some of our local managers and we fixed them," he said. "We rehired some workers, paid back wages and we took steps to ensure this would never happen again. Independent reports confirm we made good on our word."

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."

Barfield asked why, after the 2007 problems were corrected and Russell received praise in 2008 from the WRC and another independent investigation, the company was being attacked again in 2009.

"The global economic meltdown forced us to close eight plants, only one of which was unionized. Why is that one plant the WRC's sole focus? Why no concern for the people laid off from the other seven?"

The independent reports by A.L.G.I., a group of labor compliance experts that investigated the 2007 violations, included verification visits at two of Russell's Honduran plants, including the one in question, Jerzees de Honduras. A.L.G.I. found in February 2008 that Russell had fixed the problems in a manner that was "most proactive." A.L.G.I. also reported that "policies and procedures currently adhere to the highest standards for prevention of harassment, abuse and discrimination policies. Measures adopted appear to be sustainable and efficient on a long-term basis."

In a follow up report after the recent announcement of the Honduran plant closing, A.L.G.I. reviewed minutes of monthly meetings between management and union leaders and found no evidence of anti-union activity.

SOURCE Russell Athletic