The Worker Rights Consortium is an organization created by the United Students Against Sweatshops movement. It investigates complaints from workers employed in factories that supply apparel to universities that labour laws or a code of conduct has been violated. The WRC conducts interviews with workers and management in the factories alleged to be in violation, and then issues a report on its findings, which is then made publicly available on the WRC. A university that signs onto the WRC model must disclose the location of all of its global suppliers. York University (my employer) recently signed a Code of Conduct for Licensees, but it does not require the school to join the WRC. Therefore, it is not clear (to me at least) what sort of investigations of suppliers will be done and by whom.
An example of a WRC report is the recent examination of the closure of a factory in Honduras by Russell Corporation. An unusual aspect of this case is that the factory is actually owned by Russell. Usually, the factories in the developing countries are contractors, not owned by the apparel company. The WRC found that there was credible and substantial evidence that Russell’s decision to close the factory, which employed 1700 people, was influenced by the decision of the workers to join a union and that 145 employees were dismissed for lawful union activity.
The objective of preparing and publishing these reports is to pressure the employers and also the multinational apparel companies that source from the factories to correct their behaviour. A secondary purpose is to pressure universities to insist that their suppliers stop placing orders from a factory that refuses to comply with laws and codes. Russell had already responded to pressures from universities to correct problems in Honduras, as this excerpt from the report describes:
Russell initially denied the WRC’s findings and refused to cooperate with the investigation, accusing the WRC of reaching biased and premature conclusions. In response to heavy pressure from universities, Russell commissioned its own investigation through the FLA, which was conducted by the global compliance firm ALGI. ALGI corroborated the WRC’s finding that Russell responded to workers’ exercise of freedom of association with mass firings of workers who had attempted to form a union.
Russell, which by this point had received notices of suspension or termination of its
license from a number of WRC affiliate universities, now decided to collaborate with the
WRC and FLA on a remediation plan, in which the company committed to provide back
pay and offers of reinstatement to the 145 workers whom it had dismissed unlawfully. Of this number, 142 workers received back pay to the date of their termination and 62
accepted the company’s reinstatement offer. Importantly, the company also agreed to
recognize the unions organized by workers at the two facilities as legitimate worker
The latest factory closure (dealt with in this report) will now be the subject of a campaign by WRC and NGOs against Russell Athletics. This campaign will pressure Russell to reopen the factory and offer jobs to the dismissed workers. If this does not happen, the WRC (and NGOs) will ask the universities to stop using Russell as a supplier of university apparel. Here is a release by Canada’s leading NGO in this field, the Maquila Solidarity Network. I wrote a short overview a while back of another campaign waged against Montreal-based Gilden Activewear for labour-related misconduct in its supplier factories.
If Russell Athletic closed a factory in violation of labour laws, would this cause you to stop buying Russell products? Should it?