A Target apparel supplier in Guatemala has handed over tens of thousands of dollars in severance and back pay to seven former workers—nearly two years after they were illegally fired for refusing to sign falsified new contracts that would have wiped out the benefits they accrued through their years of employment.
The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a labor-rights group in Washington, D.C., said Thursday that JNB Global has also restored seniority rights for the rest of the factory’s workforce, which numbers 400, following an investigation and subsequent engagement with Target to remedy the situation. Neither Target nor JNB Global could be reached for comment.
“When I was fired, I had a lot of economic problems. The dismissal happened during the pandemic, and it was very difficult to find new employment,” said Lorenzo, one of the workers who was laid off without just cause, which is verboten under Guatemalan law. “The payment that I received will be of great help for me and my family. I have no words to express how happy I am. I appreciate all of the support that we received from the WRC and from Target.”
“I am extremely happy about the blessing of receiving my severance payment,” said Santos, another worker who rejected the amended contracts. “It was a long process, but the most important part is that there was a positive outcome. When I was fired, I owed rent, school fees for my children, payment of my electricity bill, and many other family expenses. I didn’t know how I would solve my problems, because, in Guatemala, it is very difficult to find work. The payment I received has allowed me to pay back money I had to borrow. We will be forever grateful for all of those who supported us in these efforts.”
Mirna Barrientos, whom Sourcing Journal interviewed in January, said she will finally be able to fulfill her dream of opening a small business. Guatemala’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, with whom she filed a complaint soon after her employment was terminated, had calculated that JNB Global owed her $3,248. The factory originally agreed to pay her less than half of that—$1,427—over a period of five months, which made conditions untenable for her and her school-age brothers until she was able to find a job a year and a half later. With the undisclosed sum she has received, Barrientos says she can finally pay off her debts and look forward to a better future.
The road to justice was a long one for the workers. The WRC said it contacted Target about the violations in March 2021 after receiving and investigating complaints from the fired employees. Not only did the transgressions flout national law, the organization found, but they also breached the big-box retailer’s code of conduct for suppliers.
Target told the organization that it had conducted its own audit, only to find that JNB Global had fully remedied any violations it was guilty of. When it commissioned a second investigation, however, it confirmed that the supplier had indeed committed “clear violations” of workers’ rights that required redress. On Feb. 20, JNB Global issued the missing severance and replaced any fraudulent contracts with new ones that stated the workers’ original dates of hire.
The WRC estimates that JNB Global owed the workers a collective $62,000. It declined to specify how much was ultimately paid out, however, citing concerns about the recipients’ security.
“Although two years—from the date of the JNB workers’ unlawful dismissal until when they were ultimately compensated—was far too long to take to resolve to these violations, the WRC recognizes the important and positive role that Target ultimately played in ensuring that its supplier, JNB Global, took remedial action to restore workers’ rights under Guatemalan law and Target’s own code of conduct,” the WRC said.
JNB Global workers said that the factory also supplies to Torrid, a plus-size retailer owned by Sycamore Partners. When WRC reached out to Sycamore Partners, it was told that the company was still undertaking a review of the situation, but that it was committed to ensuring non-exploitative practices. Neither Torrid nor Sycamore Partners immediately responded to a request for comment.
Despite their difficulties, the former employees say they now feel a sense of closure.
“Today, as workers fired by JNB Global, we feel joy that allows us to forget for a moment what we suffered at the hands of factory management,” Pedro told the WRC. “We were humiliated by the factory when they fired us without warning and without paying our legal severance. But today we can smile and say thank you very, very much and may God bless you so that you can continue to provide this support for other workers.”