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HUGO BOSS: Luxury brand, garbage employer

2 March, 2015This high-end clothing brand puts up every possible barrier to union organizing at its most important production factory, in Izmir, Turkey. Company management ruthlessly sacks key union members, and has been found guilty of this in Turkey’s High Court of Appeals.

The Turkish Union of Textile, Knitting and Clothing Industry Workers TEKSIF, an IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, has been assisting HUGO BOSS workers in Izmir to organize for over three years. The workers, the vast majority of whom earn less than the poverty threshold with long working hours, discretionary overtime and no social benefits, are seeking a living wage and a voice at work.

Whilst HUGO BOSS publically claims to uphold internationally recognized labour standards throughout its global operations, the 3,000 workers in Izmir have had their fundamental rights at work attacked by their management.

Violations include targeting of union supporters and their family and close friends through threats, punishments, and sackings. It took long drawn-out court processes to prove 20 illegal sackings of trade union supporters between 2011 and 2014, while a further eight are still pending in court. Although the High Court of Appeals confirmed that those workers were dismissed by HUGO BOSS because of their union membership and ordered their reinstatement, management took an option open under the law to pay them an extra compensation instead.

Now, shockingly, the practice continues with management picking out three more key union supporters for illegal dismissal in February 2015.

At no stage throughout the process did Izmir management of HUGO BOSS accept offers from TEKSIF to resolve the issues through social dialogue. And there was no intervention from international management either. When IndustriALL contacted the HUGO BOSS CEO in August 2014 to request his intervention to ensure an end to the violations and the start of constructive social dialogue at the plant, the response was to threaten legal action and to deny all responsibility.

IndustriALL then sent the documented verdicts of the Local and High Courts to the company and again offered dialogue, which the company ignored. Finally following the latest February sackings, IndustriALL wrote again to the HUGO BOSS CEO, and again were ignored.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan stated:

Under the circumstances, it is now obvious and legally recorded that Hugo Boss has violated fundamental trade union rights enshrined in national legislation and international norms and standards. On top of this, the local management in Izmir and corporate leadership in Germany repeatedly refuse all requests from Teksif and IndustriALL to discuss and resolve the pending issues through dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and recognition. The response from the company to these violations is shocking and unacceptable for us.

The majority of clothes production industry-wide is done through supplier companies, but this factory that makes an important portion of all HUGO BOSS clothes is directly owned and run by the brand. It is the largest single clothing factory in Turkey and as such can potentially set an industry standard for labour relations in the country.

The supply chain of Hugo Boss also contains serious problems. Again in Turkey, the company’s main supplier, Edirne Giyim, dismissed union members, and as in the case of Hugo Boss, judicial processes found that those workers were dismissed because of their union membership. Furthermore, and more importantly, the HR manager of Edirne Giyim was sentenced to one-and-a-half-year in prison while six department chiefs faced six-month prison sentences. There are also clear reports by inspectors from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that identify clear violations of trade union rights.

Further to the fundamental labour rights violations, IndustriALL’s partner organization, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) conducted extensive research in 2013-2014 in HUGO BOSS’ production factories. The research, published in June 2014 showed damning evidence that workers making HUGO BOSS clothes are paid far less than a minimum living wage. In fact, the research shows, the vast majority of workers producing for HUGO BOSS in Turkey earn less than the poverty threshold.