Human Rights Practices Remain in Question

4477615Once again, human rights issues are being questioned, albeit based on old information that perhaps is no longer relevant. In this case the issue stems from an incident at a factory in in El Progreso, Honduras in 2009.

The accusations are being made against Gildan Activewear for a batch of 380 T-shirts that were made elsewhere, but since Gildan purchased the El Progreso factory in 2012 from a competitor some three years after the incident they are catching the brunt of the incident that they apparently had nothing to do with.

To make matters worse, the accuser, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is continuing to sell the shirts. And, if that isn’t enough – museum spokeperson, Angela Cassie said the museum is now carrying T-shirts from Just Shirts produced by a women’s co-operative in El Salvador.

Here is the original story:

Museum T-shirts questioned

Reports of poor labour practices at factory

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is reviewing accusations the museum is selling T-shirts that were made in a factory in Honduras with a questionable human rights record.

Museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie said Thursday the museum signed a deal with Montreal-based Gildan Activewear two years ago for the T-shirts and were satisfied Gildan was providing safe, fair and legal working conditions.

The museum received assurances from three agencies that promote ethical manufacturing around the world: the Fair Labour Association, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production and Verité, Cassie said.

“They were certified,” she said. “So based on that accreditation, we felt at that point that those particular T-shirts, there was about 380 that we purchased, that purchasing them was based on sound information.”

Gildan is being criticized in a recent report by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) that says union members are being threatened at Gildan’s Star, S.A., factory in El Progreso, Honduras.

“The WRC’s investigation found that Star managers have failed to take any action against employees who have repeatedly harassed and sought to intimidate leaders and members of the factory’s union, including making threats of violence, and that Star managers have actively colluded with these employees in their anti-union actions,” the WRC report says.

Gildan spokesman Peter Iliopoulos, senior vice-president of public and corporate affairs, said the company has strict social compliance and environmental standards at all its plants. It produced 600 million shirts last year for sale around the globe.

Iliopoulos said Gildan acquired the El Progreso facility last May from one of its competitors.

“A lot of the issues they raise in the report date back to 2009, when Gildan had nothing to do with the facility,” he said, adding Gildan is committed to respecting worker and union rights.

“We were doing that even before the WRC report even came out,” he said.

Cassie said about 50 of the T-shirts remain for sale.

“For us to say we will never buy anything from Honduras as a statement I think would be irresponsible,” Cassie said. “Our initial investigation demonstrated that the materials in question are not affiliated with where this complaint comes from.”

Criticism over the source of the T-shirts didn’t escape Premier Greg Selinger.

“They do have to set an example,” Selinger told a local TV station Wednesday about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. “They know that, because otherwise it can come back and put a stark contrast on the symbol of human rights in terms of practices, in terms of products that they sell.”

Cassie said the issue is part of the museum’s learning process as it heads toward opening its retail centre in 2014.

“It isn’t just throwing out a bid and getting the lowest quote and going for it. We’re balancing all of these different needs as a museum,” she said.

For example, Cassie said the museum is now carrying T-shirts from Just Shirts produced by a women’s co-operative in El Salvador.

“This is part of our learning process as well,” she added. “Hopefully we can pass on that education to others and strengthen our processes. Are there things we can do more of? Are there things we can do differently?”

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2012

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