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Colectivo Raiz makes some progress with Levi’s supplier

December 19, 2014

After many setbacks, Colectivo Raiz, MSN's partner in Aguascalientes, Mexico, is making some progress toward remediation of long-standing worker rights violations at a Levi's supplier factory in that city, though a number of issues remain unresolved.

In our June newsletter, we reported that workers at Levi's Jobar supplier factory were owed back-pay for unpaid lunch breaks over many years.

In an August 22 letter to Colectivo Raiz, Michael Kobori, Levi's Vice-President of Sustainability, promised that the workers would be compensated at an overtime rate for unpaid lunch breaks in 2012 and 2013. The letter also stated that Levi's would be contracting an independent, third-party monitor to verify the calculations and ensure that workers receive the compensation payments. Colectivo Raiz has since confirmed that compensation is indeed being paid to the workers, though in installments.

While payment of back-pay owing was very good news to workers and Colectivo Raiz, Levi's has not yet provided details on the findings of the monitoring organization regarding whether proper back-pay has been distributed. As noted in our June article, many Jobar workers have been employed for 10 years or more, which means that two years compensation does not come close to reimbursing them for monies owed from previous years.

Another positive outcome of Colectivo Raiz and MSN's efforts to engage with Levi's has been company's agreement to appoint a Mexican external consultant to help facilitate constructive dialogue between Colectivo Raiz and Jobar management in order to help resolve outstanding and future worker rights issues. Levi's and Colectivo Raiz have also established clearer protocols for future dialogue between Colectivo Raiz and the brand. Levi's has also agreed to include in its annual inspection of its suppliers in Aguascalientes State, issues such as freedom of association, transparency, and anonymous and accessible complaint mechanisms for workers at the factory level.

Unfortunately, Levi's has endorsed Jobar management's decision to exploit a loophole in the law to continue to deny workers a paid lunch break. Jobar has extended the unpaid lunch break by a half hour and one minute, thereby dividing the workday into two four-hour shifts with the result that since April of this year workers at Jobar are at work 31 minutes longer each day for no extra pay. According to Colectivo Raiz, Jobar workers have expressed their dissatisfaction with this decision, which is already negatively affecting mothers that have to leave their children longer at child care centres or with individual care givers.

According to Levi's, the decision to extend the unpaid lunch break was agreed to by the "official union" that holds title to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the Jobar factory. An investigation by the monitoring organization Verité in 2010, which was mandated by Levi's, verified that Jobar had signed the original CBA, as well as other agreements that diminished workers' entitlements, with a "protection union" without the workers' knowledge or consent.

To its credit, Levi's had required that the CBA be distributed to all Jobar workers and that workers and management personnel receive freedom of association training, which was carried out by the Guatemalan independent monitoring group COVERCO in 2012 and 2013.

Current unresolved issues include confusing pay slips that make it impossible for workers to determine whether they are being properly compensated, the employer's failure to provide workers copies of revisions to their collective bargaining agreements negotiated since 2011, and the lack of follow up to 2013 freedom of association training to ensure that workers understand their associational and collective bargaining rights and that management personnel are aware of their obligations regarding freedom of association.

According to Sara Montes (photo above), of Colectivo Raiz, its agreement with Levi's on how to resolve outstanding and future issues represents a small but important step forward.

For more on this case, visit:
Wage theft in Mexico: the cost of an unpaid lunch break
Mexico: a Levi's factory shines light on protection contracts

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