Magazine article New Internationalist

Victory Looms

Magazine article New Internationalist

Victory Looms

Article excerpt

November 15, 2009 will go down in the history of workers' rights. Bowing to one of the largest-ever student boycotts, campus clothing giant Fruit of the Loom announced that it wasn't just going to reopen a factory in Honduras and give all the 1,200 laid-off workers their jobs back - it was also going to pay them $2.5 million in compensation, and restore union rights.

Colleges in the US, Canada and Britain had been persuaded by students to suspend their contracts with Fruit of the Loom and its subsidiary, Russell Athletic. The student protests were in response to news that the company was planning to shut its Jerzees de Honduras factory following union activity. Reyna Domínguez is one of the sewing machine operators from the factory: 'Without the pressure from the students they [the company] would never have come to the negotiating table. There has never been an agreement like this in Honduras or the world. The feeling is something you really can't put into words.'

Dominguez, who describes herself as 'a mother anda father at once', has got into $370 debt since being laid off, in an attempt to keep her six children fed, clothed and in school. If the compensation from the company is divided equally per worker, she'll get over $2,000.

The campaign started in 2009, when United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), an alliance of over 200 US educational institutions, decided to act on reports of poor working conditions and threats to union members in the factory.

The University of Miami was the first to cut its contract. In February the boycott gained momentum when USAS brought the President and VicePresident of the Honduran workers' union to the US for a speaker tour.

'After that, the dominoes just started falling,' says Rod Palmquist, International Campaigns Co-ordinator for USAS. 'Pretty much everywhere we visited cut their contracts. …

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