Levi’s breaks promise to workers in union busting struggle at Turkish garment factory

Workers at a Levi’s supplier in Türkiyehave faced harassment, attacks, arrests, and dismissal for exercising their right to chose their own union representation. Despite committing to the union that it would pressure the factory management to rehire unlawfully terminated union members, four months since the start of the conflict, Levi’s is still producing clothes at the factory and has stopped communicating with the union and labour rights advocates supporting them.
Trade unionists facing repression during their strike in December 2023.

On 27 November 2023, hundreds of workers walked out of the Özak/Kübrateks factory in Şanlıurfa, Türkiye, after the discriminatory dismissal of an outspoken union activist. Workers stood up for their right to join their union of choice and to seek improvements to the working conditions at the factory. On multiple occasions, the gendarmerie attacked the strikers and detained union leaders and striking workers en masse. In mid-December, Özak/Kübrateks management dismissed all 400 striking workers.

Early on in its struggle, the union, Birtek-Sen, turned to Levi’s, the sole buyer at the factory. Birtek-Sen reports that soon after being made aware of these egregious human rights violations at its direct supplier, Levi's informed the union that it recognised that workers’ rights were violated and that Levi’s would to use its leverage to ensure that workers were reinstated, and withdraw from the factory if the factory management failed to restore their jobs.

However, when the factory owner refused to reinstate the workers and allow Birtek-Sen to operate at the factory, Levi's failed to follow through on its threat. For many weeks, the brand has left urgent letters by the union, and by supporting unions and labour groups around the world, unanswered. In the meantime, the Özak/Kübrateks factory in Şanlıurfa, which had only a small workforce left, has been hiring new workers who are not Birtek-Sen members to complete its orders for Levi's.

It is abundantly clear that Levi's is failing to prevent, mitigate, and remediate a very serious instance of union busting at its immediate supplier. Instead, four months into the conflict, it bolsters the factory owner’s defiant position by breaking its promises to the Birtek-Sen union and continuing to produce at a factory that has actively intimidated, harassed, and dismissed workers for exercising their rights.

International campaigners have additionally turned to other major buyers from the two other factories owned by the Özak/Kübrateks factory group to urge them to raise these severe human rights violations with their close business partner and use their leverage to ensure workers are reinstated or receive their “union compensation” (owed according to Turkish law to workers whose union rights are violated) if they chose not to return. Hugo Boss and Inditex have both been approached, but have thus far failed to take a clear position condemning the union busting happening at their business partner’s factory.

In the meantime, the terminated workers continue to fight for their right to be reinstated or receive their legally owed union compensation, as well as for the right of their union to operate freely in the factory.

published 2024-04-02