The latest ire of the anti-sweatshop movement is Russell Athletics. Activists have convinced major universities to cancel apparel contracts with the company.
According to the Workers Rights Consortium, a group that monitors labor conditions abroad for colleges, Russell spent two years trying to intimidate workers who attempted to unionize before closing the factory when they did.
“They’re well on their way to being the first company in history to be kicked out of collegiate sports because of their labor practices,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the WRC. “I can’t imagine their affiliates will be too happy about that, which includes the NBA and the NFL and others.”
Russell says it announced the closure of the factory last October due to falling demand for the fleece sewn there. The company said it picked the union plant in Choloma because it had a month-to-month lease and cost $2 million less to close than the non-union alternative.
The company said that earlier anti-union actions, including the firing of 145 workers detailed in reports by the WRC and the industry-sponsored Fair Labor Association, were taken by local management. Russell is taking steps to fix such problems, company officials said.
I’m not an expert on collective bargaining, but I think it must be difficult to fight for currently-employed workers. If you fight too much, you just might fight them out of a job. The thing that leaves Russell wide-open here is that the worker’s who the movement are fighting for are no longer employed. The worker’s and the activists have nothing to lose, but Russell sure does – $$. And they’re currently losing it.
The university movement continues to lead the way on worker’s rights. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. To follow along check out the blog “Rein in Russell Athletics.”
Russell is a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom.