Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — After a three-day investigation at the Kukdong factory in Mexico, labor and student activists are calling on Nike and Reebok to help get factory employees back to work and to improve their working conditions.
About half of Kukdong’s 900 factory workers were allegedly fired for taking part in a three-day strike that was held earlier this month. About 800 of the factory’s workers demonstrated to form their own labor union and to disband the one set up by Kukdong’s management.
Kukdong produces Nike sweatshirts imprinted with the names of at least 14 colleges. Reebok also uses the facility for production.
Mark Barenberg, chairman of the Workers Rights Consortium, who is also a Columbia University law professor, said Thursday that only 250 employees were working when he and five other WRC investigators visited the Kukdong site last weekend.
“The crucial and immediate problem is the company’s refusal to reinstate workers involved with the work stoppage,” he said.
Kukdong’s management’s actions violates workers’ freedom of association, as well as international and Mexican labor laws, Barenberg said. Management also disregarded an agreement signed with the Mexican government, assuring that all workers would be reinstated without discrimination, he added.
The WRC group also found “very strong evidence” that some workers were physically and verbally abused by management. Kukdong’s general manager “volunteered” that one worker was hit with a hammer by a supervisor, and there were other reports of employees being hit with screwdrivers, Barenberg said.
The WRC’s initial report highlights the need to correct child labor abuses, and provide minimum or living wages.
Vada Manager, director of global issues management for Nike, said, “There is good reason to question the objectivity of that report.”
Therefore, Nike is repeating its request to the WRC that both parties select an independent monitor to issue another report.
Manager also said Nike is encouraged that half the factory has returned to work, since stabilizing production at the factory is a priority.
Doug Cahn, vice president of Reebok’s human rights program, said Reebok made recommendations Thursday to Kukdong management, based on recent interviews with workers done by an independent source. Reebok wants all factory workers to return to work free from fear, to be able to unionize, to receive adequate wages and to have good quality food, he said.
The WRC, which met with Nike and Reebok representatives in Mexico, is calling on both companies to hire independent monitors for Kukdong to assure displaced workers can return to work. For the first time, Nike and Reebok have agreed to work with the WRC, the International Labor Rights Fund and the Fair Labor Association to try to correct the problems at Kukdong, Barenberg said.
The athletic firms are also being called to go forward with production runs at Kukdong to help prevent workers from facing unemployment.

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