Honduras: Nike agrees to pay laid-off workers

On July 26 Nike, Inc and the General Workers Central (CGT), one of Honduras’ three main labor federations, announced that the Oregon-based sports apparel giant was paying $1.54 million to some 1,600 workers laid off in last year’s closure of two Nike subcontractors in the Choloma region of the northwestern department of CortĂ©s. The package also includes a year of medical coverage through the Honduran Social Security system, a training program and priority for hiring at other factories that Nike may use in the country. The fund is to be administered by the CGT; the Solidarity Center of the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation; and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a US-based labor rights monitoring group.

The two apparel assembly plants—Vision Tex, which employed Korean capital, and Hugger de Honduras, owned by Donaldo Reyes Villeda, the son of a legislative deputy for the center-right National Party (PN), Donaldo Reyes Avelar—closed without warning in January 2009. The only compensation the workers received was from the sale of machinery and office equipment. This came to 21% of the severance pay mandated by law for the Hugger workers and 26% for the Vision Tex workers. Workers’ rights advocates say the total package offered by Nike is worth about $2 million, the amount of severance pay still owed to the workers.

Nike claimed it wasn’t responsible for the subcontractors’ failure to compensate their workers. In the fall of 2009 the US-based United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) launched a campaign to pressure Nike to pay, following a model the group used to get Russell Athletic of Atlanta to rehire 1,200 workers laid off in January 2009 when Russell closed its unionized Jerzees de Honduras plant [see Update #1013]. With the slogan “Just pay it,” USAS and affiliated groups arranged tours for two laid-off Honduran workers at more than 40 US campuses that have sports apparel contracts with Nike.

By mid-July, Cornell University had decided to end its contract with Nike, and pressure was growing for Pennsylvania State University and the University of Washington to do the same. According to the CGT’s Choloma coordinator, Evangelina Argueta, Nike signed the compensation agreement on July 20. (La Prensa, San Pedro Sula, July 26, some from EFE; New York Times, July 27; Revistazo.com, Honduras, July 28; In These Times, July 28)

At a press conference in Tegucigalpa on July 28, representatives of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) charged that the economic policies of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, a National Party leader, were creating a fiscal and labor paradise for import and export businesses. The FNRP, which was formed to resist the coup d’Ă©tat that removed then-president JosĂ© Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales in June 2009, cited new taxes which it said penalized the poorest, a plan to legalize hourly temporary work, cancellation of labor rights for teachers, and delays in increasing the minimum wage.

“The de facto president [Lobo] knows that the minimum wage is in direct relation to the price at which business people sell the basic canasta,” the FNRP said, referring to the “basket” of consumer staples which Latin American governments use to measure the cost of living. Currently the canasta is 6,500 lempiras (about $344) a month, according to the FNRP, which is calling for a mobilization on Aug. 18 to demand an increase in the minimum wage and to reject any plans to devalue the currency or impose a temporary work law. The protest will also demand respect for human rights and the dismantling of the regime established by the 2009 coup. (Vos el Soberano, Honduras, July 28, from DefensoresenlĂ­nea.com)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 1.

See our last posts on Honduras and Central America.