Victory for newly unionised garment workers in Nike factory, Sri Lanka

Feb 26, 2024 | Blog, News

After months of struggle and uncertainty, 18 workers at a factory in Sri Lanka making socks for Nike, who were suspended for forming a branch union, are now back at work with the branch union in place. This victory shows that union busting has no place in garment supply chains and that workers standing together and international solidarity can make a real difference.

On 7 September 2023, workers at the Texlan Centre factory in Sri Lanka, owned by Interloop group and a supplier to Nike, informed management of the formation of a branch union of the Free Trade Zones and General Service Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU), providing the names of the office bearers and committee members. The workers formed the union in response to concerns about their working conditions, including the lack of availability of filtered drinking water for workers and being unable to inform family members of unexpected night work.

In response, management contacted employees to warn them to stop unionising or risk dismissal. The following day, twelve branch union office bearers and committee members and four active members were suspended without pay. Several days later two additional union members were suspended. Management claimed bogus disciplinary allegations as the reason for the suspensions. The branch union president faced death threats and was warned to refrain from further union activity.

The parent union FTZ & GSEU immediately contacted the company about these blatant union busting tactics, and when the management did not show any willingness to accept the union, filed a complaint to the Special Investigation Unit of the Department of Labour. Meanwhile, the Clean Clothes Campaign case group, which Labour Behind the Label participated in, advocated to the factory group Interloop in Pakistan, as well as the main buyer Nike, requesting intervention in line with their obligations under UN Guiding Principles. As the proceedings dragged on, the union managed to ensure that the suspended workers were paid at least their base wages pending resolution.

After months of struggling for their trade union rights, on 15 February 2024 the workers signed an agreement with factory management allowing them back to work, with all bogus disciplinary allegations dropped, back payment of the bonuses workers missed during the months of suspension, and management being ordered not to interfere with the activities of the branch union. The FTZ branch union will start operating in the factory immediately.

The Texlan workers’ victory shows that solidarity is our greatest weapon against union busting and intimidation in global supply chains!