I recently traveled to Honduras, where several years ago I served as human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. I returned to this beautiful county to participate in several events related to Fruit of the Loom’s winning the 2013 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence (ACE). The ACE recognizes U.S.-based companies operating abroad that demonstrate exemplary responsible business practices, including advancing respect for the rights of workers. Earlier this year in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry awarded Fruit of the Loom the ACE for operating a renewable energy biomass facility that reduces the company’s carbon footprint, and its efforts to enhance the capacity of Honduran workers to exercise their freedom to join a union.
These recent events associated with Fruit of the Loom in Honduras were especially meaningful for me, because I am now the coordinator of the 2014 ACE program at the State Department. So, my trip to Honduras represented a unique connection for me between my past and present experiences.
The central event of my visit was a recognition ceremony for Fruit of the Loom, which was held on March 20, 2014. The Honduran Apparel Production Association and the American Chamber of Commerce organized the ceremony, where U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske spoke about the United States’ partnership with Honduras and highlighted the importance for Honduras’ development of respect for labor rights, as demonstrated by Fruit of the Loom.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez also spoke at the ceremony, and emphasized that Fruit of the Loom’s winning the ACE was just as importantly a win for Honduras. The President highlighted the company’s achievements as an outstanding example of the private sector’s contributions to job creation and other improvements in the lives of Honduras’ people and their environment. Industry and organized labor leaders praised the company’s collective bargaining agreement as an example for other companies to follow.
After the ceremony’s formal remarks concluded, I spoke with both Fruit of the Loom managers and workers, and I could tell by our interactions how proud they all were that the company had won the ACE. In many respects, this award represented a connection between their past and present, too.
Fruit of the Loom’s ACE recognition is significant, in part, because of the exemplary steps the company took to overcome serious historical challenges involving its operations in Honduras. After widespread public attention to ongoing and serious labor-management problems several years ago, as well as substantial self-reflection, Fruit of the Loom decided to make a change. In 2011 and 2012, the company sat down at the table with worker representatives through a creative oversight program led by civil society and supported by the State Department to transform its efforts on labor rights. This program is now a model in Central America. Workers receive training on freedom of association and other labor rights, and workers at three of Fruit of the Loom’s six Honduran plants have chosen to have unions. Relationships are a constantly evolving process, and there remain at times strong differences of opinion and tough bargaining, but Fruit of the Loom appears energized to continue building on its achievements. In Honduras, Fruit of the Loom’s president Rick Medlin assured me of the company’s deep commitment to remain in the country and ensure that worker rights are fully respected.
While I was in Honduras, I also had the opportunity to join Angi Pendergrass of the U.S. Embassy for a presentation at the Centro Cultural, where we spoke to 200 energetic high school students about entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility. We also discussed how the students could get involved in ways to improve the quality of people’s lives via volunteer projects or internships with American and Honduran companies. I also met with leaders of Honduras’ Garifuna community to discuss the ACE and challenges of economic and social inclusion for the country’s Afro-descendants.
My take away from my trip was that all of us -- myself, the Honduran students, Mr. Medlin, his company’s management, the thousands of Fruit of Loom workers making t-shirts, and you -- have a responsibility to make sure our efforts contribute to excellence in our professional activities and our communities. I saw this sense of responsibility in action while celebrating ACE in Honduras. I am pleased that the U.S. government selected Fruit of the Loom as a winner for 2013. I will continue to follow the company’s activities, and hope these will continue to benefit the people of Honduras.
Please go to www.state.gov/e/eb/ace/ to learn more about ACE, and share your thoughts here on how we can all promote corporate excellence in our communities.
About the Author: Gregory Maggio serves as the Coordinator of the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.