Feb
22

FLA Welcomes New Corporate Member Hanes Amidst Massive Sweatshop Controversy

While FLA Receives Funds from Hanes and the Company Touts FLA Membership as Proof of Social Responsibility, Labor Abuses Continue

The so-called Fair Labor Association (FLA) has embroiled itself in yet another corporate sweatshop scandal. For the past two years, workers at TOS Dominicana, a Hanes factory in the Dominican Republic, have been engaged in a struggle to defend their basic rights against the massive global giant Hanes, who continues to ignore the workers’ demands. In April 2007, more than 30 workers were fired from the factory for attempting to organize a union and the factory initiated a massive anti-union campaign that continues to this day, terrorizing workers in an effort to dissuade them from standing up for their rights. Workers at the factory are paid poverty wages that leave them unable to meet the basic needs for themselves and their families and many face chronic health problems due to the company’s unwillingness to put into place the appropriate protections.

Across the world, anti-sweatshop and human rights organizations have been involved in an international campaign to bring attention to the abuses at the TOS factory and to pressure Hanes to treat their workers with the dignity and respect that they deserve. This campaign has included support from several well-respected labor rights organizations, including the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP), Sweatfree Communities, as well as support from the U.S. Congress and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Students from USAS also wrote to Hanes celebrity endorsers, including Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Christina Applegate, about the case, some of whom contacted Hanes about the abuses at TOS. In fact, Kevin Bacon no longer works as a celebrity spokesperson for the company.

But in spite of all the international attention garnered by this case, Hanes has made no meaningful commitment to improve the situation, and still refuses to pay workers a living wage or provide them with a standard work schedule that would allow them to spend time with their families. This case is particularly unique, because Hanes actually owns and operates the factory in question, giving them complete control over the working conditions there. There is no excuse for Hanes’ continued disregard for the workers at TOS.

Yet despite the ongoing international campaign against Hanes, the Fair Labor Association admitted Hanesbrands as a Participating Company on February 21, 2008. Both Hanes and the FLA issued press releases, applauding Hanes’ employment practices and touting the company as a leader in labor rights compliance. But the FLA’s decision to admit Hanes as a member came with absolutely no precondition to resolve the problems at TOS. Instead of requiring the company to correct the abuses at their Dominican plant, the FLA welcomed Hanes into their organization with open arms. None of the groups that had been involved in the two-year long campaign were consulted nor were workers or their union asked to provide input any input on this decision.

After learning that Hanes had joined the FLA, USAS and other concerned groups contacted the FLA, in hopes that they would pressure Hanes to clean up the violations at TOS in compliance with the agreement they made when joining the FLA. Unsurprisingly, the FLA has been unwilling to do anything more than pay lip service to these requests, while Hanes is allowed to hide behind this PR stunt. It is outrageous that the FLA, which claims to be a defender of workers’ rights, is now earning untold amounts of money from Hanes’ membership, in exchange for funds which could have been spent on real improvements for workers at TOS and other Hanes’ facilities around the world. We are disgusted to see that when Hanes offered money in exchange for political cover, the FLA was more than happy to accept.