Fair labor has been top of mind so far in 2016 and Hugo Boss is the latest retailer to come under fire for unethical practices.
A Fair Labor Association (FLA) assessment of the German luxury brand’s wholly-owned factory in Izmir, Turkey found instances of Turkish labor law violations, including dismissing workers for trying to unionize and failing to pay a fair wage.
Since the report’s release, a petition to get Hugo Boss to stop “union-busting” and to give its workers the wages they deserve, circulated by consumer watchdog SumOfUs, has pulled in more than 75,000 signatures.
“Major fashion companies rarely own the factories where their garments are made—but Hugo Boss owns this one, and it’s the largest garment factory in the country,” SumOfUs campaigner Eoin Dubsky said. “Hugo Boss could easily do the right thing and improve conditions in the Izmir factory – setting an industry standard for labor relations in Turkey.”
Dubsky continued, “But unfortunately, it seems like Germany’s iconic fashion label is continuing to engage in a despicable pattern of union-busting—including illegally firing 20 trade union supporters between 2011 and 2014. When it was caught by the Turkish Federal Court, Hugo Boss refused to hire back the employees. ”
In its report, FLA said workers started trying to unionize in July of 2011 and between September of that year and January 2012, Hugo Boss dismissed 290 workers—out of the factory’s nearly 4,000-strong staff—on grounds of “unsatisfactory performance.”
These dismissals accounted for 31 percent of the total workers let go between September 2011 to June 2015.
“The timing and magnitude of dismissals in late 2011 and early 2012 suggests that they were not solely based on performance issues, but were related to unionization efforts at the time,” FLA said. Workers interviewed as part of the assessment also said a petition against the union campaign was being circulated at the time and they suspected it was an effort to identify pro-union workers.
When it came to wages, the assessment said worker trainees at the Izmir factory start working on the on the production floor before completing the legally required 320 hours of theoretical training, and are paid less than the minimum wage for the duration of that training.
One problem with this, as FLA found, is that, “Although there is an agreement between ISKUR and Hugo Boss factory regulating the training/working conditions of trainees, there is no procedure in place to ensure compliance with the legal requirements regarding trainees’ hours and payment.”
The assessment also uncovered other instances of regulations that run counter to Turkish law, like: “The workers can be transferred to another workplace temporarily in the same county without their consent;” “The workers have to pay back the cost of trainings provided by the employer in case of termination with cause or resignation;” and “The workers must provide a valid reason to not stay for overtime work.”
In some cases, however, FLA said Hugo Boss already has corrective action plans in place to remedy some of the outlined wrongs.
The assessment did highlight some of the factory’s positives, like a “well-staffed” health clinic that trains workers on better posture exercises and breast cancer awareness, and a “Gold Coin” bonus worth $55-$60 for six months of perfect attendance.
“High-fashion brands like Hugo Boss can’t afford to simply ignore public pressure—especially in countries where they aim to sell highly priced clothes to the widest audience,” SumOfUs said on its petition page. “Demand that Hugo Boss treat workers fairly.”
Hugo Boss has not released comments on the matter.