On 14 November 2009, Fruit of the Loom (FOTL), the world's largest producer of T-shirts to the US market and the largest private sector employer in Honduras (Doh and Dahan 2010; Anner 2013), announced that it would reopen its garment factory Jerzees de Honduras (JDH), under the name Jerzees Nuevo Dia (JND), or ‘New Day’. They had capitulated almost entirely to the demands of the union and international activists. The final deal, negotiated between FOTL workers and executives, included rehiring of 1,200 employees, a multi-million dollar payout to workers, and a commitment to extend union neutrality and access across its Honduran supply chain.
This is the story of a garment factory that was shut down by its owner in response to unionization, as so often happens. But in this case it is also the story of how FOTL, the factory's TNC owner, suddenly reversed course and, in so doing, fundamentally altered how it approached labour relations. The embattled union drive overcame retaliatory sacking, death threats, and a nine-month factory shutdown, while keeping up morale and high participation to win an impressive package of wages and benefits and create the political space for a new wave of labour organizing in Honduras and abroad.
The garment and footwear sectors are not monolithic, of course, and evolve in different and uneven ways, with a great deal of intra-sectoral variety. Previous chapters outlined how the particularities of garment and footwear production – fashion trends, seasonality, and so on – are made for highly fragmented, labour-intensive, and low-value industries. The top-heavy power balance in these value chains allowed buyers to exert persistent downward pressure on suppliers, who were less and less capable of capturing enough value to upgrade. And that pressure, like all downward market pressures, ultimately fell on workers, whose wages were further squeezed by employers with nothing more to give.
Since the production process depends on what is being produced, seasonality and fashion kept the garment and footwear GVC low-tech and vertically disintegrated, while the least seasonal and fashion-sensitive are the most valorized and vertically integrated. By way of illustration, my case studies focus on a few of the least seasonal and fashion sensitive products in the sector: jeans, casual shoes, and sports shoes; and this chapter's focus is on cotton T-shirts and undergarments.