02/18/2013 08:29 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2013

Démodé Deutsche Post-DHL Workers: Fashion Victims

Deutsche Post-DHL, an official sponsor of London Fashion Week and similar events around the world, has questions to answer about how it treats its global workforce. Recently, the Turkish Courts ordered DHL's operation in Turkey to reinstate two workers which it found had been effectively dismissed for being involved in trade union activities. DHL is part of the fashion industry supply chain and the industry must face up to its responsibilities and demand that DHL behaves ethically across its entire global network. Top designers, who pride themselves on acting ethical, would be shocked to know how DHL is failing workers in several countries. These are not isolated incidents.

DHL workers around the world, particularly outside of Europe with its stronger social protections, face a systematic violation of their basic rights. A recent report on DHL's global labour practices entitled Corporate Irresponsibility: Deutsche Post DHL's Global Labour Practices Exposed exposes DHL's extensive violations of workers' rights in dozens of countries around the world. Another report, by respected U.S. Professor John Logan (San Francisco State and UC Berkeley) lays bare the "aggressive and illegal" campaign waged by DHL in Turkey to prevent its employees from forming a union and engaging in collective bargaining.

DHL workers have been subjected to lie detector tests, illegal in most of Europe, in countries such as Colombia, South Africa and Panama, countries where histories of brutal interrogations make these tests not simply invasive but a far stronger tool of intimidation. Edwin Valasquez Ayala, a former DHL employee, was forced to take a lie detector test in Colombia and intimidated into signing a document saying he had never done so. The interrogation over the alleged theft of 22 USB sticks included personal questions about his family and their history, and at one point the interrogator became "extremely aggressive... He disconnected the lie detector, all the while insulting me [Edwin] and telling me that I was a key element in the case." Edwin describes the interrogation as "trampling over all my principles." The test, he says "shattered my former life. My self-esteem was completely destroyed." Edwin alleges the company fired him on March 15, 2011, with no chance of appeal, let alone the release of the results of the test. DHL´s proud involvement in the fashion industry makes the use of lie detectors against DHL workers, like Edwin, an issue which the industry should not tolerate.

In Turkey, 23 workers were sacked while attempting to form a union. These Turkish workers wanted a union, in large part, because DHL put them under extreme pressure to work excessive overtime. Vural Erkol, for instance, was sacked in the midst of this organizing campaign for reportedly refusing overtime, despite working 480 hours of overtime in 4 months, far above the Turkish legal limit of 270 hours a year. Every court case verdict so far has found these sackings illegal under Turkish law. The last two cases made specific reference to the dismissals being linked to trade union activity.

The creation of an ethical, sustainable fashion industry requires the respect of the basic rights of all workers in its supply chain, from protecting the simple privacy rights of a delivery worker shipping a garment to London Fashion Week, to ensuring the right to freedom of association for the warehouse worker, storing and handling shoes on the way to a boutique in Manhattan. The fashion industry must demand that DHL substantially changes its behaviour or find another carrier. UNI Global Union and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) call on DHL to begin a constructive global dialogue aimed at respecting DHL workers' rights across the world.

Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union General Secretary and Steve Cotton, Acting General Secretary International Transport Workers' Federation