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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Leading US jeans brand accused of union busting

The Worker Rights Consortium’s (WRC) latest factory investigations regret that brand labor standards are meaningless if they’re not enforced. The WRC found 500 workers who had the right to choose a union were dismissed.

“And this is a glaring example of non-enforcement,” he said.

The WRC says that Özak Tekstil the supplier of jeans to various brands including Levi’s breached not only Turkish law and international labor mores, but also Levi’s code of conduct. Levi’s explained that it has a longstanding commitment to supporting safe, productive workplaces and that it takes any allegations of attempts to undermine freedom of association “extremely seriously.”

But what happened in Urfa facility of  Özak Tekstil is the worst case of union-busting, following the layoffs, Levi’s wrote to Özak Tekstil stating that the firings were a zero-tolerance violation of its standards and that it would take “appropriate next steps to uphold workers’ rights” if the workers weren’t reinstated without retaliation, according to report. The following month, Levi’s informed the WRC that it would be ending its relationship with Özak Tekstil, which confirmed to the nonprofit that it received a formal letter of termination in February.

The situation took a turn in April, according to the report, when Levi’s informed the WRC that it would continue to conduct business with the Urfa factory without requiring Özak Tekstil to rehire the workers. Levi’s told Rivet that month that it would be working with the plant on a “conditional basis,” one that was dependent on the manufacturer’s fulfillment of a remediation plan that included fixing oppressive working hours, improving health and safety and addressing the routine verbal onslaughts known as mobbing.

The workers at Özak Teksil have suffered a lot for simply exercising their right to choose a union,” Birtek-Sen said in a statement, which it also published on X. “They have been sacked en masse, subjected to illegal attacks, bans and mass arrests by the governorate and the police. They have been blacklisted and condemned to starvation and social death

Labor leaders say when there are violations, they should be dealt with in a process. Brands shouldn’t cut and run. The only long-term solution is a trade union that has the legal right to sign a collective agreement, like our affiliate Öz-İplik İş.

Levi’s said that the preservation of the Urfa facility’s remaining 400 jobs was one of the drivers behind its decision to keep working with Özak Tekstil, and that it had been in frequent contact with factory management to “firmly express” its support for the lawful expression of workers’ voices and the right to freedom of association.

Labor activists called Levi’s desire to protect jobs “obviously disingenuous” because it didn’t protect the jobs of the hundreds of workers who had already been discharged. Brands like Levi’s also regularly exit factories, which can result in job loss, whenever they find a cheaper place to produce, he said.

Turkish law requires unions to meet certain membership thresholds—say, representing 1 percent of workers in the relevant industry—before they are vested with the authority to negotiate. But while employers are prohibited from covering the same group of employees with multiple collective bargaining agreements, and, nothing stops multiple unions from co-existing in the same workplace or raising labor concerns with factory management.

German labor organization Internationaler Gewerkschaftlicher Arbeitskreis Köln last month filed a complaint on behalf of Birtek-Sen to accuse Levi’s, Hugo Boss, and Inditex of reneging on their human rights obligations under the German supply chain due diligence law. It is currently under consideration, the Clean Clothes Campaign said.

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