The University’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights is calling on University officials to end their licensing agreements with Russell Corporation, an athletic apparel company that has come under criticism for allegedly firing employees for unionizing.

In a letter sent Monday to Kristen Ablauf, director of licensing for the University, the committee cited practices from two of the company’s facilities that allegedly failed to properly communicate and respect the right to association.

The committee is asking the University not to renew its licensing agreements with Russell Corp. when the current license expires on March 31.

The committee’s letter to Ablauf said it would not be advisable to continue a relationship with the Russell Corp. because the company has not respected the employees’ right to association.

“Even if top management at Russell firmly and strongly believes in respect for every human being and respects the right to association, the committee concluded they did a poor job of communicating those ideals to people at the two plants and of implementing/enforcing appropriate practices,” the letter said.

The letter recommended the University sever ties with Russell Corp. and that monitoring the situation closely would not be sufficient to prevent further instances.

“Because of the company’s previous failure to adhere to its own standards of conduct, we do not feel that continuing the license, even under strict monitoring of any new code of conduct, is appropriate,” the letter said.

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said the committee’s letter was received and will be reviewed by the Office of the President and the Office of the General Counsel.

Russell Corp. has been linked to two separate instances of abusing workers’ freedom to association.

The original investigation by the Worker Rights Consortium, a University affiliate that is paid to monitor any labor or human rights violations by University licensees, found that Russell Corp. dismissed virtually all of its unionized employees in its Jerzees de Choloma facility in Choloma, Honduras, in March, shortly after a union was formed there.

Russell Corp. had originally refused to comply with WRC’s investigation and rejected remediation plans to reinstate the unionized employees. But the company ultimately relented and agreed to comply with WRC, before closing the facility in March 2008.

This incident prompted the Fair Labor Association, which is an organization that monitors human rights and labor violations by University licensees, to issue a corrective action plan to Russell Corp. that was meant to be implemented at its facilities. However, a similar occurrence at the company’s Jerzees de Honduras plant was brought to the University committee’s attention in October 2008.

WRC and the Fair Labor Association investigated the matter to determine if similar pressure was being put on employees who had or were planning to unionize. The investigation found that at least part of the decision to close the factory was based on a “serious violation of university codes of conduct.”

In an interview yesterday, Public Health Prof. Sioban Harlow, chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights, said she was disappointed that Russell Corp. did not comply with the corrective action plan.

“We concluded, as we state in the letter, that Russell Corporation did a poor job of communicating the right of association,” she said. “We lack assurance that Russell will adhere to their own standards of conduct.”

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