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Reebok Investigation Confirms Violations at Salvadoran Factory Where NFL Jerseys were Sewn

May 4, 2010  |  Share

--Described as "A Disaster"-


In response to a National Labor Committee report, "NFL and Reebok Fumble/Women Paid 10 Cents to Sew $80 Peyton Manning Jerseys" (February 2010), Reebok and its parent company Adidas dispatched a team of investigators to the Chi Fung factory in El Salvador.

The Reebok/Adidas team quickly found that local Salvadoran Ministry of Labor inspectors were either incapable or unwilling to note and correct ongoing serious human and labor rights violations at the Chi Fung factory.  Despite five Ministry of Labor inspections, including one following the release of the NLC's report, they were still unable to find any problems.

Very quickly, the Reebok/Adidas team found that it was impossible to interview workers inside the Chi Fung factory, as supervisors were always present to monitor the conversation.  It was impossible for workers to speak truthfully under such conditions, so further interviews were held in a secure location away from the factory.

The Reebok/Adidas team found:

  • The mostly young women workers were not paid their legal overtime wages and were also shortchanged on the incentives due them.  (Chi Fung management appeared to have two or three different versions of its payroll records.)
  • Factory temperatures were excessively high and the air was filled with fabric dust, due to the lack of proper ventilation and dust extractors. 
  • Bathrooms were filthy, with several bathroom stalls missing their doors.
  • Drinking water was unsafe.
  • In-house cameras were used by management to spy on the workers-including monitoring the workers' bathroom visits.
  • Dangerous electrical wiring-which if left un-repaired could cause a fire.
  • The workers had no freedom of association or to organize a union. In fact, the workers had no right to even question management regarding the illegal conditions they endured, and could be immediately fired if they asked for their legal rights.
  • A correction plan has been presented to Chi Fung management, including extensive training of supervisors and managers in respect for human, women's and worker rights.

There are indications of several initial positive changes at Chi Fung:

  • Workers are now being paid their correct overtime and incentive wages, and overtime work is no longer obligatory, but voluntary as required by law.
  • Factory bathrooms are in the process of being cleaned and repaired.
  • To a large extent, maltreatment and abusive behavior on the part of the supervisors has been curtailed, but more needs to be done.

The Reebok/Adidas inspection team was made up of lawyers, an engineer, a psychologist and a business administrator-many of them from El Salvador's National University.

Note:  The Salvadoran Minister of Labor, Victoria de Aviles is widely respected as being extremely honest and committed to defending the rights of El Salvador's workers.  The problem appears to be the many incompetent labor inspectors, who are holdovers from the previous administration.

More updates will follow.

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