Demand Retailer Enforces its Code of Conduct at the Company's Canadian
TORONTO, June 13 /CNW/ - Canadian and U.S. university students joined
apparel and service workers yesterday in New York, to announce the beginning
of a Back-to-School boycott of American Eagle Outfitters, in support of
workers at American Eagle's Canadian distribution contractor, National
Logistic Services (NLS).
The rally coincided with American Eagle's annual shareholder meeting in
midtown Manhattan and featured hundreds of activists pledging not to purchase
clothing from the chain store until it enforces its Code of Conduct at the
company's Canadian distribution contractor in Mississauga, NLS.
"American Eagle reported another year of high sales figures to
shareholders today," Alex Dagg, UNITE HERE's Canadian Co-Director, told the
students and union members at the rally. "But behind the company's recent
success is a group of workers at a distribution center near Toronto who help
make it happen. Not so long ago, these men and women worked directly for
American Eagle. Now they face mistreatment at the hands of a contractor. It's
time for American Eagle to step up and take responsibility."
American Eagle, which operates 1,000 stores in North America, now
outsources its Canadian distribution operations to NLS, but the clothing
company directly owned and operated the distribution center until early 2006.
American Eagle remains NLS's largest customer, and the distribution center
serves the retailer's expanding base of 73 stores in Canada. American Eagle's
Code of Conduct for Vendors and Contractors specifically protects freedom of
association and other basic rights for the employees of its contractors.
"If American Eagle is serious about their Code of Conduct, then they will
demand compliance from NLS for Canadian workers, just as they will for garment
workers in China sewing jeans or shorts," said Dagg. "Furthermore, American
Eagle should not think it can flout its own rules by going across the border
to Canada or across the ocean to Asia."
Since American Eagle sold the facility, workers have reported that
conditions have deteriorated, wages have stagnated, and there is little job
security. Workers at NLS faced harassment and intimidation when they tried to
improve conditions by forming a union. Employing a tactic outside the norm of
Ontario labour relations, NLS hired an American consulting firm that
orchestrated an anti-union campaign against the 180 workers. After this
campaign of misinformation, workers lost the vote to join UNITE HERE despite
expressing a desire to form a union just one week before.
"We work hard and want to be treated fairly," said an NLS worker who
spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation. "We feel insecure about our jobs
because of the company's intimidation. We need a union because we have no
Student groups from both countries including United Students Against
Sweatshops (USAS), the Student Labour Action Project (SLAP), and several
Toronto-area student unions, have joined with UNITE HERE to launch the
Back-to-School Boycott. The groups will encourage their members, who number in
the tens of thousands, to sign the boycott pledge at www.AmericanVulture.org.
Store actions in targeted cities will also inform customers about the boycott.
Already, more than 3,500 supporters throughout North America (including many
student activists) have contacted American Eagle and NLS to voice their
outrage with the tactics used at the warehouse.
UNITE HERE represents more than 450,000 active union members and more
than 400,000 retirees in the U.S. and Canada including those who sew, ship and
sell clothing. With more than a century of history in the apparel industry,
the union has fought to improve working conditions in North America and in
sweatshops overseas. Today, over 30,000 members work at more than 200
distribution centers, including Liz Claiborne, Levi's and TJX stores.
For further information:
For further information: Anna Oman, UNITE HERE, (212) 332-9380; Wynne
Hartviksen, (416) 473-2632; Hayley Watson, USAS, (416) 575-5293