Winnipeg-based Nygård International has become the target of a public shaming by both an international union and labour rights organization over allegations some of its clothing was made by workers owed wages and severance when a garment factory in Cambodia suddenly closed down.
The Workers United Canada Council and the Maquila Solidarity Network have joined together to persuade Nygård to either tell its suppliers to pay more than 200 workers at the former Chung Fai Knitwear factory in Cambodia their final month salaries and severance pay or have Nygård compensate them itself.
Ryan Hayes, a spokesman for Workers United, said they have written to Nygård, asking for a meeting to find a resolution to the matter, but they have had no response yet.
"Our primary focus is on the 208 workers in Cambodia," Hayes said on Wednesday.
"Over half of the workers have worked there for more than 10 years and they're having trouble finding new employment. They are senior garment workers in an industry that hires young women. We've been trying to reach out to Nygård in good faith.
"We want to tell them 'you have a responsibility to make them whole'."
Hayes said if they continue to receive no response, and nothing is done to help the workers, their next step may be to speak to Nygård customers about the issue on the sidewalk outside stores in Winnipeg, Toronto and New York City.
"People do care where their clothes are from," he said.
Hayes said it would cost the company $550,000 US to settle the matter with the workers.
"Peter Nygård has a net worth of $750 million," he said. "In the grand scheme of things, it is not a huge amount of money, but it is for his workers."
Susan Clarke, a Nygård spokeswoman in Winnipeg, would not say whether the company will meet with the two organizations.
But when asked if Nygård has received clothing from Chung Fai, Clarke said "we have never had any contract with them.
"They never produced any product for us. Nygård International has had no direct connection or any legal contracts with Chung Fai."
Clarke said the company has already responded several times to Workers United and Maquila.
She pointed out that Nygård also requires all factories selling products to it to sign a compliance document which makes them adhere to certain conditions including paying wages, benefits and overtime consistent with local laws, not use child labour, and to practice environmental protection as defined by local laws.
The company's website also notes its regional and national staff perform regular audits to ensure the compliance agreement is being followed.
The Chung Fai factory shut down in July 2016 with no notice, throwing 208 workers out of work. The workers, mostly women, have been fighting ever since for their final month salaries as well as severance pay.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international alliance of trade unions and non-governmental organizations whose mission is to improve working conditions of garment workers around the world, the factory made clothes for Nygård as well as Marks and Spencer and Bonmarche. The organization says while Bonmarche has been in touch with its supplier, both Nygård and Marks and Spencer have denied any responsibility.
Workers United and Maquila claim Chung Fai's parent company is Addchance which is connected to it through its subsidiary Dignity Knitter Ltd.
Hayes said a search of import data on Aug. 1, found Nygård was getting clothes from Dignity.
Hayes said an online petition supporting the workers has already garnered more than 5,000 signatures.
The petition can be found here.
Bob Jeffcott, a Maquila policy analyst based in Toronto, said he's also hoping Nygård officials agree to sit down with them.
"We want to have a discussion of what they could do to help the crisis with these workers," Jeffcott said.
"They're not very clear with their connection with this factory. They could have a relationship with the parent company. We think they have a responsibility to clarify it."