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FLA investigation ignores root causes of workplace injuries

September 5, 2012

Above: A promotional photo from Gildan shows workers stretching

In February 2011, the Honduran Women's Collective (CODEMUH) filed a complaint with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) alleging that 57 workers at Honduran factories owned by Canadian t-shirt manufacturer Gildan Activewear had suffered debilitating injures due to long work shifts, the intense pace of production and high production targets.

A year and a half later, the FLA has yet to release its investigative report or corrective action plan.

However, based on an unreleased copy of the report and recommendations sent to MSN by CODEMUH, it appears that the FLA will not be demanding any changes in Gildan's production practices or work shifts, but instead will focus on encouraging increased worker participation in the company's existing health and safety program.

The investigative report acknowledges that Gildan's ergonomic evaluations are not systematic and that workers are not sufficiently aware of the program or involved in its implementation, but it concludes that the program is "robust" and "well structured." The cumulative health impacts of long work days and high production targets were not assessed by the FLA's investigative team.

Prior to the Gildan complaint, CODEMUH had filed a very similar complaint with the FLA concerning health and safety issues at Honduran factories owned by Gildan's main competitor, Hanesbrands. While both the Gildan and Hanesbrands complaints were accepted by the FLA in March 2011, the Hanesbrands investigation was not slated to take place until the end of August 2012. The decision to use the same research team and the same terms of reference suggests that the Hanesbrands investigation will likely arrive at similar conclusions.

CODEMUH's complaints allege that Gildan and Hanesbrands have been well aware of the verified cases of work-related injuries suffered by dozens of their employees who are required to work at an inhumane pace for 11½ hours a day for four consecutive days a week followed by four rest days, but the companies have done nothing to change these practices.

In an April 14 letter to the FLA following a review of the draft report, CODEMUH's coordinator Maria Luisa Regalado expressed their frustration with the weaknesses of the report. "The FLA investigation does not analyze or explore in depth those elements that are central to the CODEMUH complaint, including the 4x4 system, high production goals and the deficiencies in the design of the work." CODEMUH provided detailed critical comment on the contents of the report.

As a member of the FLA NGO Caucus and Board of Directors, MSN has been lobbying internally for an investigation that assesses the root causes of the workplace injuries at the Gildan and Hanesbrands factories.

"Way back in 2009, Gildan agreed to cooperate with an independent assessment of its health and safety program, and various organizations, including MSN, spent a lot of time working through the terms of reference for that investigation. However the company abruptly reversed that decision, which led to the formal complaint," says MSN Executive Director Lynda Yanz. "It is very unfortunate that the FLA has not undertaken a serious assessment of Gildan's ergonomics program as well as the impacts of the company's production methods on workers' health."

A recently published study by MSN and two of our Central American partners, including the Honduran Independent Monitoring Team (EMIH), identified the impacts of long work shifts and high production targets on workers' health and quality of life as two major problems facing maquila workers in Honduras.

"The impacts of these long working hours and the way production is organized are factors that need to be given a lot more attention," said Honduran sociologist Isbela Orellana in an interview by EMIH. "Studies need to be done using professional, technical criteria in order to determine the implications that the production targets have on workers' health and for their present and future quality of life."