Correcting the Lies:
Cintas' Response to UNITE's “Sweatshop” Allegations
In January 2003, the textile workers’ union UNITE launched a highly publicized organizing campaign against Cintas, focused solely on obtaining an agreement from Cintas that would deny our employees the right to government-supervised, secret-ballot elections in future union decisions. Cintas not only believes this is wrong, but that it’s un-American.
And since we disagree with the union’s anti-democratic tactics, the union has said publicly that it will “break the back” of our company. Over the past year, our company and employees have endured an unrelenting barrage of false allegations, attacks and intimidation – like the allegations it recently made in a publication in which the union alleges that certain Cintas suppliers operate “sweatshops,” in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct.
After reviewing the union’s reckless allegations, and conducting investigations through third party auditors and our first hand experiences, we determined that our suppliers are not operating in a manner inconsistent with the Company’s Code of Conduct. In fact, many of the union’s allegations are outright falsehoods, and in almost all cases can only be attributed to the unsubstantiated allegations from "anonymous" former employees of the individual suppliers. These unsubstantiated allegations were made without providing any concrete information, including a source or timeframe of the allegation.
We believe it is important that everyone understand Cintas’ steadfast commitment to responsible manufacturing, both domestically and abroad, and the steps the Company takes toward ensuring that its suppliers meet Cintas’ Code of Conduct – plus the steps the company takes if a supplier does not meet Cintas’ requirements.
Cintas’ Code of Conduct and Audit Program
In addition to manufacturing garments at our own facilities, Cintas purchases uniforms from other companies and currently maintains relationships with suppliers in the United States and internationally. About half of these suppliers are located in the United States . For obvious competitive purposes, Cintas typically does not disclose to the public the names or locations of its key supplier relationships.
Cintas requires its vendors and contractors to conduct business in an ethical and moral manner, both domestically and internationally, as specified in a Code of Conduct, which is publicized on our website, www.cintas.com. While we recognize that there are different legal and cultural environments throughout the world, vendors must operate consistently with our Code of Conduct in order to do business with Cintas.
Highlights of Cintas’ 11-point Code of Conduct, posted on www.cintas.com, specify that vendors and suppliers will:
- Operate in compliance with the laws.
- Set working hours, wages and overtime in compliance with the local laws.
- Despite local laws, not allow anyone under age 16 to work at the facility.
- Treat all employees with respect and dignity.
- Not require anyone to remain in employment against their will.
- Not discriminate between workers of different cultures or ethnic groups.
- Provide a safe and healthy work environment.
- Comply with all customs laws and regulations.
- Guard against illegal shipments of drugs.
- Protect employees’ rights to collective-bargaining, if desired.
- Ensure that subcontractors also meet Cintas’ requirements.
Cintas reinforces this code with an annual 127-point audit program of major contractors and suppliers conducted by third party, independent auditors that are well-experienced and certified under WRAP guidelines. Similar to the ILO concept for best business practices, these guidelines set universal standards for evaluating fair labor and ethical business practices. Also, since many of our suppliers also contract with other large companies, it is not uncommon for factories to undergo several independent audits during the course of a year as part of obligations to a variety of their customers.
If Cintas determines that any vendor is not operating in a manner consistent with this code, Cintas may either terminate its business relationship or require the supplier to implement an immediate corrective action plan. If corrective action is advised but not taken, Cintas can suspend placement of future orders and may terminate current production. Cintas has terminated a number of contracts over the years with vendors and suppliers that have operated inconsistently with our Code of Conduct.
Additionally, as part of the due diligence process involved in an acquisition, Cintas reviews an acquisition’s supplier relationships and may terminate – as it has in the past –existing contracts to ensure future conformity to Cintas’ Code of Conduct.
For obvious confidentiality reasons for both Cintas and our individual suppliers, these independent audits are not released to the public since they contain the companies’ detailed wage and benefit data, operational information and other competitive data.
We have investigated UNITE’s allegations about specific vendors, and reviewed our audits and other documents, and find no factual information that these vendors are operating in a manner inconsistent with Cintas’ Code of Conduct. Some examples of union falsehoods include:
- The union alleges that “nearly 40 women workers are forced to share a single bathroom with one toilet . . .” at F&F Sewing in Chicago . This is false. This small supplier maintains two restrooms for a female workforce of 26. For the record, the Illinois Department of Labor issued its labor inspection report on F&F in June, 2004. The report found that F&F had not violated any labor laws.
- The union alleges that many employees at Sewing Systems in Chicago “work on a piecework system and sometimes earn below the minimum wage.” This is completely false. All workers at this supplier receive a base wage, plus a years-of-service premium. No workers are paid on a piecework basis.
- The union also alleges that F&F in Chicago “further subcontracts work to women who have employees sew clothing in their homes.” This allegation is absolutely false. This supplier allows no subcontracting of work to individuals’ homes.
- Regarding Markey Tex and Coco Tex in Mexico , the union’s allegations of “extreme heat, breathing lint- and dust-filled air as they work,” “workers do not have access to clean drinking water” and inadequate or un-stocked restrooms are simply false. The facility has adequate ventilation, ample restroom facilities and chilled-water systems – all of which is well documented.
- The union’s allegations that “sometimes people would pass out” at HATCO in Haiti are similarly false, confirmed by the physician that the supplier provides for employee care. The physician spends one day a week at the facility with employees, and also sees employees at his clinic during the rest of the week.
- Also, despite the union’s criticisms, HATCO voluntarily pays a guaranteed minimum wage that is over 40% higher than national minimums, with an average wage of over 60% higher than the national minimums.
- Not surprisingly, current employees of these very same suppliers and local officials tell a very different story than the one conveyed by UNITE:
- HATCO - “I am so much respected here, it feels so much like my home.” Employee Florence Fils, Machine Operator (through translator)
- HATCO - “We have a doctor that comes here every week – every Wednesday – and takes care of us.” Employee Paul Genois, Cutting and Pressing Operator (through translator)
- HATCO - “There is a great difference here (versus other facilities), because other places give us exactly what the state tells them to. Here, they give us more.” Employee Mariette Petite-Frere, Packing Operator, (through translator)
- Cintas remains confident, based on its third-party independent audits and its first-hand experience, that its suppliers – like Hatco in Haiti – not only operate within the requirements of Cintas’ Code of Conduct but also are some of the more respected employers in their countries.
- “As I have visited many other companies, there are not many like Hatco. Hatco is one of the tops, one of the best. If one of my family members were to ask where to work, Hatco would be the best place to recommend to because Hatco offers some advantages that you cannot find anywhere else.” Garcon Ariol, Inspector, Haitian Ministry of Social Affairs (through translator)
- “[Hatco] has regular audits coming from the United States to make sure that the international standards are accepted, like the security of fire standards, et cetera. And the food in the cafeteria – the food is subsidized – the company pays for the food for the employees. So, this company has become a reference for suppliers in the subcontracting area, which makes it play a big, big role socially in the community.” Lionel Etienne, President, French Haitian Chamber of Commerce (through translator)
In its conclusion, the union alleges: “In Haiti , Mexico and Chicago , Cintas uniforms have been produced in conditions that violate international labor standards, local laws and/or the company’s own Code of Conduct.” Given the falsehoods incorporated in the union’s writing, there is no evidence that its allegations are true. To the contrary, based on Cintas’ independent third-party audits and first-hand experience, our products are being made in conditions that are consistent with local laws and Cintas’ Code of Conduct.
As we noted earlier, this union has proven repeatedly that it will say anything – no matter how irresponsible – in its efforts to embarrass the company, damage its reputation, and disrupt its business relationships - like the ones we continue to enjoy with so many customers.
If you have specific questions regarding any allegations, please contact your Cintas representative.
Cintas Corporation provides highly specialized services to businesses of all types throughout North America . The company designs, manufactures, and implements corporate identity uniform programs, provides entrance mats, restroom supplies, promotional products, and first aid and safety products to over 500,000 businesses. Cintas is a publicly held company traded over the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol CTAS, and is a Nasdaq100 company and component of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. The company, which has achieved 34 consecutive years of growth in sales and earnings, to date, was named one of the top outsourcing services providers in Fortune Magazine's 2003 " America 's Most Admired Companies" survey.