Jack Wolfskin, Schoffel Sportbekleidung GmbH, Complaint 598

Safe and healthy working conditions

The complainant is a worker currently working in a factory where he/she witnesses constant physical abuse towards his/her colleagues by the person in charge of sewing line 6 and 7. It was reported that the accused is infamous for his/her rude language and physical abuse (knocking on the head). He/she always calls female workers whores and uses many other swear words whenever a worker makes a mistake. He/she would curse them and knock them on the head, which always leads them to cry in pain and shame. Around 10 workers have already left due to the verbal and physical abuse. Although this abuse is infamous among the workers and staff, no one dares to take action against the accused. The complainant felt that he/she had enough after a line helper was abused right in front of him/her, causing him/her to resign, a few days ago. He/she was given FWF's complaints number from one of his/her friends and expected to find a solution to this problem.

Findings and conclusions

On 22 December 2018, FWF's complaints handler in Myanmar received a complaint from a worker who repeatedly witnessed physical abuse towards his/her colleagues by a supervisor. FWF declared this complaint admissible and informed Jack Wolfskin and Schoffel, the FWF members sourcing at this factory. The brands immediately contacted the factory and asked for a response. Factory management conducted an investigation which confirmed that the accused supervisor used strong language when workers made mistakes. Training was arranged to improve supervisors' communication with workers about mistakes. A written warning procedure was also introduced to stop verbal scolding. FWF contacted the complainant and found that the supervisor's behaviour had not changed. FWF and the brands expressed the gravity of the case to the factory, which conducted another investigation. It was confirmed that the supervisor had not followed the written warning procedure, but the physical abuse was not confirmed. To remediate the case, factory management suspended the supervisor, informed all workers about the disciplinary measure taken and provided information about the internal grievance system on the notice board. FWF was unable to speak with the complainant as he/she had resigned, but spoke with two other workers who confirmed that the supervisor had hit their colleague on the head. This was not confirmed by the internal investigation, most likely because it was conducted by management and workers were afraid of being identified. The FWF brands will keep monitoring the factory to ensure no similar incidents reoccur. If another complaint occurs, more serious disciplinary action will be taken. This complaint is closed.

Overview of the complaint investigation

2019-01-02 Investigation

FWF brands sourcing at the factory, Schoffel and Jack Wolfskin, contacted the factory management and asked for a response.

2019-01-09 Investigation

On 9 January 2019, the factory management shared their response in the form of a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). The CAP indicated that an investigation was conducted, which established that the manager of line 6 to 7 tends to give strong warnings with emotional expressions to workers who make a mistake during production. The factory management board has agreed entirely that such behaviour is wrong.

Management also indicated that it will set up official training, and train the manager group in charge of production lines that it must point out mistakes to workers and give training in order to improve. Also, managers were advised that after three efforts to improve, it should give a written warning instead of making insulting remarks.

Management, furthermore, indicated that "if rude and violent expressions continue despite company rule and training, the manager's job will be changed, e.g. to sample maker. The factory also indicated that it will take all possible action to protect a stable and comfortable mindset of workers.

2019-01-21 Evaluation of the complaint

FWF called the complainant and found that, despite the management's earlier statements, the problem still remains as the accused supervisor reported physically harassed another worker (line helper) from line 6. According to the complainant, the supervisor cursed at the worker and knocked on his/her head harshly for three times. Due to the pain, the worker could not work anymore and try to go back home but the security guards did not let him/her leave. Finally, they ended up at the HR office. The victim was moved to another department while no action was taken against the abuser.

2019-01-29 Investigation

FWF member brands approached the factory management again with information about the second complaint about the supervisor. The new information was added to the CAP and the brand conveyed strongly that the factory management must take this very seriously.

In the meanwhile, one of the technicians of the brands was at the factory from 15 to 17 January 2019 and (secretly) tried to check the situation in the factory. He reported, that he did not see any of the supervisors with a rude or inappropriate behaviour towards workers. He was especially asked to observe line 6 and 7 and he could not observe any bad behaviour.

2019-01-31 Investigation

Factory management responded to the brands and indicated that, according to the accused supervisor's statement, there was a difference of opinion on the day of the incident, and there was a slight physical act of touching the shoulder, but it was exaggerated. Factory management denied that the security guard had stopped the worker from going home.

Factory management indicated that on the day of the incident, the Korean factory manager met the victims and firstly moved him/her to another department, but he/she had now left the company. The management noted that it will invite him/her in order to listen to both sides of the story and to secure the exact circumstances and statements. Moreover, since the victim did not report the incident to FWF by himself/herself, but it was reported by a worker that witnessed it, the factory management intends to listen to other witnesses on line 6 and try to verify it accurately.

Factory management furthermore stated that it will consider warnings, reductions, suspension, and layoff based on its own investigation. Finally, it committed to continuously educate managers about the problems of verbal and physical violence and recommends that they take precautions in case of work problems.

2019-03-12 Remediation

Following further discussions and follow-up by the brands, another, more detailed, response was shared by the factory management about the complaint. Factory management confirmed that the supervisor scolded the helper due to his/her repeated mistakes after three trainings. According to the supervisor, the reason was careless work.

Factory management indicated that the worker tried to go back home without informing the manager. As he/she did not have a gate pass, the security guard informed the HR office, as per factory procedure.
The HR manager subsequently went to gate in order to bring him/her to the office to check the reason for leaving without permission.

The worker, who was crying at the HR office, indicated that his/her head was knocked by the supervisor because of his/her mistake. The production manager then called the supervisor to talk. The supervisor apologised about scolding the worker but did not admit the hitting.

Management also indicated that it conducted an official survey among six workers who were positioned near the drawing table and none of them indicated that they saw the hitting occuring. The management furthermore noted that it also conducted a secret anonymous survey among 15 randomly selected workers. Among these 15, 4 workers witnessed the incident. According to the management, all four witnesses denied seeing any hitting and abuse.

Based on this internal investigation, the conclusion of the management was that:
1. The supervisor corrected and trained the new worker drawing work three times.
2. The supervisor found repeated mistakes and scolded him/her in front of all workers.
3. The worker felt insulted and shamed because the supervisor talked to him/her angrily.
4. No finding on hitting or touching except for the worker's statement.

Factory management indicated that the supervisor violated the company rule on the warning procedure, according to which workers must be given warning letters and not being attacked verbally. As a penalty, it was decided to suspend the supervisor for a week with a warning as she did not follow the official procedure. Factory management, furthermore, announced the action taken and provided information about the grievance system with a notice on the bulletin board so that all workers were aware about the case and system.

2019-03-17 Evaluation of the complaint

FWF was not able to speak to the complainant (who resigned from the factory), but did manage to talked to two other workers. They both confirmed that the supervisor did knock the worker on the head and many of the workers know about it.

FWF notes that it is not surprising that the factory's internal investigation did not confirm the same. Since the investigation was done by the factory management team, it is likely that workers would not trust fully that their anonymity would be ensured. In such case, one cannot expect reliable answers. Workers usually would not get involved in this kind of issues, especially when their own supervisor is accused.

2019-03-18 Closed

Based on the statement of the complainant, and those of two other workers that confirmed the incident, FWF concluded that there is good reason to believe that the complaint is grounded. It must be noted, however, that the factory management came to a different conclusion following their own investigation.

Factory management admitted that the supervisor scolded the worker, for which he/she apologised, but did not admit that the hitting occurred. With the accused and factory management denying the incident, it will remain difficult to prove fully that it happened. Nonetheless, it was also noted that the factory management decided to suspend the supervisor for a week and announced the action taken and provided information on the grievance system with a notice on the bulletin board so that all workers could know.

Finally, FWF has taken note that the factory is arranging training to make sure supervisor do not scold, or insult workers, and do not react with a lot of emotion when workers make a mistake.

FWF is hopeful that with all the attention that this incident generated and the training the factory arranged, this type of behaviour will not happen again. This will be monitored and followed up by the brands. If FWF receives another complaint about the supervisor to the complaints helpline, more serious disciplinary action towards the supervisor would be taken.