On December 10, 2018, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) initiated a Third Party Complaint (TPC) investigation, after having received a complaint from the Bangalore, India-based Garment Labor Union (GLU) concerning allegations of Sexual Harassment and Freedom of Association violations at Carnival Clothing Company, a Tier 1 supplier of FLA affiliate adidas located in Mysore, India.
Subsequent to receipt of the GLU complaint and before reaching a decision on whether to initiate a formal TPC investigation, FLA staff based in India was in regular contact with both adidas and GLU officials. adidas on November 21, 2018 commissioned an internal investigation of the factory that produced a report that in turn was shared with GLU.
Following several rounds of discussions among the parties, the FLA in consultation with adidas decided to proceed with the TPC mechanism at Step 3 of the process. adidas in turn informed the FLA that it had engaged an independent entity, Glocal Research, a research organization based in Hyderabad, to conduct the investigation. This action was communicated to both to Carnival Clothing factory management and to GLU officials.
Glocal’s investigation into the complaint’s allegations was headed by Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu, joined by Dr. Jacob Kalle, Ms. Meghana, and Ms. Manjushree. The onsite investigation was conducted from April 3-7, 2019 and the team submitted its investigation report in May 2019.
The report outlines the investigation methodology, including engagement with workers both onsite and offsite, with factory management, and additional outreach, as well as a detailed document review and analysis. The report submitted by Glocal reflects the investigative team’s careful review of the allegations raised by the complainant concerning sexual harassment, freedom of association violations, and other conditions at the Carnival Clothing factory, as reflected in the range of interviews conducted both onsite and offsite, detailed document review, factory walkthrough, and so on. A portion of the report is framed in a spreadsheet format describing the allegations, documents reviewed and meetings/interviews conducted, and in turn the summary of findings and proposed sustainable corrective action plan. This effectively links proposed corrective actions to the underlying findings and conclusions.
The FLA has carefully reviewed each of those elements of the report, in particular the findings and corrective action plan. Consistent with its longstanding practice, the FLA does not substitute its own judgment for that of the independent third-party investigator(s) with respect to description and terminology/word choice, nor with respect to the findings and proposed corrective actions. In fact, there are certain terms used in the report, including with respect to consideration and review of the sensitive sexual harassment allegations, that do not conform with standard FLA usage. That said, taken as a whole, the report follows a careful methodology and by all indications is sound in its characterization of the allegations and in its findings with respect to them.
Most importantly, the report is thorough in its framing of the numerous corrective actions it recommends that Carnival Clothing needs to undertake to address both the specific allegations and more systemic shortcomings identified as a result of the investigation. These include documented failures by factory management to communicate adequately to workers concerning critical issues such as work schedules and overtime work; channels available for reporting grievances and seeking redress; appropriate procedures for review of complaints pertaining to allegations of sexual harassment; and requests made for transfers within the factory; all central issues raised in the complaint. More broadly, the report documents the need for factory management to engage proactively with union officials in resolving grievances.
The report therefore recommends a series of corrective actions to be taken by factory management. Many of these concern the need for much more effective training of workers and management alike with regard to sexual harassment issues, and of those serving on the Grievance Redressal Committee that is responsible for the handling of complaints as well as of other pertinent committees referenced in the report. Other recommendations focus on the need to empower women by putting more of them in supervisory positions and for communicating to workers more broadly on their legal rights and entitlements; as part of the terms of their employment. The report concludes with additional recommendations tied to specific elements of what it terms working conditions. These are all sound recommendations that fit within the scope of the Sustainable Corrective Action Plan developed by the investigators.
The FLA is pleased with the detailed and practical set of proposed actions in that Plan, which it believes – if implemented fully and faithfully by factory management – will go a long way to repairing the policy errors and omissions highlighted in the report. The FLA endorses these recommendations, including those focusing on the exercise by workers of legal rights enshrined both in law and in the FLA’s Code and Benchmarks. The FLA therefore urges adidas to work closely with factory management to implement the listed corrective actions as expeditiously as possible, and to report back in a timely fashion on the status of their implementation. The FLA stands ready to provide guidance and assistance concerning the means for ensuring that these recommendations are indeed implemented effectively to advance the interests and needs of the complainant union’s members and the Carnival Clothing workforce as a whole.