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MBNA cuts off T-shirt supplier

By Chris Osher - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Friday, August 27, 2004

A bank that gives away T-shirts at Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games has stopped doing business with a Canadian company accused of running a Honduran sweatshop.

MBNA America, based in Wilmington, Del., has suspended its relationship with shirt supplier Gildan Activewear until accusations about the firm are resolved, said bank spokesman Edward H. Murphy.

MBNA will continue to give away free T-shirts in Pittsburgh and other Major League Baseball cities but will rely on other suppliers, at least for now, Murphy said. The bank gives T-shirts to fans who apply for credit cards at PNC Park.

MBNA took the step in response to a news story in Tuesday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the efforts of protesters seeking to draw attention to what they called labor violations by Gildan. The Montreal-based company employs more than 9,000 people in 11 countries, according to Gildan's Web site.

The protesters said Gildan decided to close its sewing factory in El Progreso, Honduras, after workers there tried to form a union. The plant employs 1,800 people. None of the protesters could be reached for comment yesterday.

The protesters wanted the Pirates to pressure Gildan to keep the factory open and improve working conditions.

A Pirates spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.

Murphy said he had no further details on how MBNA plans to resolve the complaints about Gildan. He said that when MBNA decided to use Gildan as a supplier, it relied on certification by the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production Program and the Canadian International Development Agency.

Gildan denies that it is closing the Honduras factory because of workers' efforts to unionize.

"We at Gildan are very committed to operating in an ethical and responsible manner," said spokeswoman Catherine Orer.

She stressed that Gildan is making improvements at other factories and will help the employees in Honduras find new jobs once the factory closes.

The Fair Labor Association and Workers Rights Consortium, both nonprofits in Washington, D.C., investigated complaints about the Honduran factory and issued critical reports. The nonprofits found that workers who tried to form a union had been fired by Gildan and that employees had to work 11-hour shifts without a paid 30-minute lunch break.

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