By  on July 29, 2009

WASHINGTON — A group of apparel and footwear companies have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials urging the Obama administration to help restore democracy in Honduras, while calling for an adherence to civil liberties in the wake of a military coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya in June.

Nike Inc., Adidas Group, Gap Inc. and Knights Apparel sent letters late Monday to Clinton, as well as to José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, and Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department, outlining their concerns over the political instability in a country where U.S. companies produce millions of dollars worth of apparel annually.

The coup at the end of June has not disrupted apparel production in Honduras, according to sourcing executives, but they are concerned about long-term infrastructure breakdowns and potential problems if the new government does not adhere to internationally recognized standards on workers’ rights.

“As companies that have products made in Honduras, we are deeply concerned about recent events in that country,” the companies said in the letter. “We understand serious disagreements exist between the elected president, congress and the Supreme Court [in Honduras], but these should be resolved through peaceful, democratic dialogue, rather than through military action.”

The companies said they are “very concerned about the continuation of violence if this dispute is not resolved immediately and with restrictions on civil liberties” under an emergency decree they said was issued by the new government on July 1.

The Honduran National Congress approved the congressional president, Roberto Micheletti, to replace Zelaya for the remainder of his term in office.

The apparel and footwear companies called on Clinton and other stakeholders to put pressure on the new government to “fully respect” freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

“We feel we can deliver a stronger message when brands come together in support of issues such as these,” said a Nike spokeswoman, adding Nike has apparel production in Honduras. “We don’t have any specific concerns, we are simply calling for all civil liberties to be respected as the process of negotiations continue.”

Lynda Yanz, executive director of the Maquila Solidarity Network, a labor rights group based in Toronto, said her organization has been working closely with human and labor rights organizations in Honduras, which she said have told her they have been isolated by the new government.

“The OAS, European Union and U.S. have spoken out about this and there has been a lot of publicity and public pressure, but the private sector [in Honduras appears to] basically condone and support the coup,” said Yanz. “So this is quite groundbreaking that we have major, multinational corporations now talking about the importance of democracy, the rule of law and civil rights in Honduras.…It sends a different signal.”

Honduras is the fourth-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., shipping $772.4 million worth of apparel in the first five months of the year, representing a volume of 388.4 million square meter equivalent. The biggest categories produced in the country include basic apparel such as T-shirts, socks and undergarments.

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