By  on October 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Express and Warnaco Inc. are urging authorities to allow workers at a Grupo Navarra jeans factory in Tehuacán, Mexico, to vote on creating an independent union.

"We expect our suppliers to respect the lawful exercise of workers' rights of free association," the brands, all of which have used the Mexican company as a supplier, wrote in a letter to Puebla State Secretary of Labor José Antonio López Malo Cappellini.

The letter, dated Tuesday, was coordinated by the Maquila Solidarity Network, a Toronto-based workers' rights organization. The U.S. companies requested that authorities set a "definitive date" for a vote on unionization to be held in "an accessible and neutral location."

"Through our vendor codes of conduct, our companies seek to do business only with suppliers that respect workers' rights," the companies wrote in their letter. "In addition, it is important that we and other companies doing business in Puebla remain confident in the government's commitment to the rule of law."

Bob Jeffcott, policy analyst at the Maquila Solidarity Network, said labor organizations linked to the state government have been thwarting workers' attempts to form a union in which they would have a voice. He said almost 100 employes from a total workforce of about 800 people have been fired at the facility, including 20 on Wednesday. He alleged that workers have been harassed and threatened with the closure of the factory if they support the union.

It is a good sign that the brands are backing the people responsible for actually making the goods, Jeffcott said.

"It's quite an important precedent," he said. "It does put additional pressure on the state authorities and the employer to ensure that worker rights are respected."

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