Lululemon, REI Factory in El Salvador Takes Heat for Workers’ Rights Violations

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Several major brands manufacturing at Textiles Opico in El Salvador may want to take a closer look at the factory’s labor compliance.

A new report out by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) alleges that Texiles Opico—which supplies product for Lululemon, REI, Academy Sports, Castelli and Dick’s Sporting Goods, which sources Adidas-licensed product there—has been in violation of workers’ right to freedom of association more than once.

According to WRC, Salvadorian garment workers union Sitrasacosi filed a complaint in January with the WRC about violations of their right to associate, and further investigation found that the factory had targeted members of the union for termination.

“These discriminatory dismissals constituted a serious repeat violation of freedom of association by Textiles Opico,” WRC wrote in its report. “This is not the first time that Textiles Opico has attempted to undermine workers associational rights; the FLA [Fair Labor Association] found, in May 2013, that the factory had discriminatorily terminated five leaders of the same union.”

Sitrasacosi garment workers formed their union in March 2013 and shortly thereafter factory management terminated five employees who were leaders and members of the union as part of what the WRC called “a broader illegal campaign of antiunion retaliation.” Factory management, however, told workers they were being let go because of poor job performance.

As part of its remediation of the violation, Textiles Opico reinstated all five of the workers and developed a process in 2014 to handle future workforce reductions in a way that prevents such discrimination. But when the company laid off 75 workers in January—37 percent of which were union members—it did not follow previously agreed upon procedures, like giving workers two weeks advance notice and selecting who to let go based on tenure, then professional qualifications and lastly, those with the lowest production.

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Instead, Textiles Opico reportedly terminated workers on the spot and didn’t select staff to cut based on the order outlined in 2014. What’s more, according to WRC, the factory eliminated the most-unionized group of employees, those working in its Maintenance of Installations department (where 56 percent of the workers were union members). Workers in that department had been imploring factory management for safety shoes needed to perform their jobs—and required under Salvadorian law—but they were met with no shoes and no response.

When terminated workers asked for their union representative, which Textiles Opico had agreed to as part of protocol for any worker terminations, human resources manager Herbert Guandique reportedly told them: “If you are waiting for someone from the union to come, you are wasting your time because the union already knows what is happening and it can’t do anything to help you.”

The statement was untrue, according to WRC, as the union hadn’t been notified with enough advance notice to do much, as workers were already being released before the meeting between union members and factory management had ended.

“Discriminatorily terminating union members under the guise of economic layoffs has been specifically identified by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, the highest international body authorized to interpret this right, as a violation of this fundamental workplace right,” WRC noted.

The WRC has shared its report with factory buyers and said Textile Opico should take the following corrective actions: reinstate the 28 union members who were let go in the January layoff, provide them with full back pay, issue a statement to all workers about their right to associate and contract a third-party organization to provide workers and factory management with appropriate training on compliance with freedom of association laws in El Salvador.

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