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Apparel companies support Honduran president -- well, sort of

July 30, 2009 |  6:34 pm

Honduras, Adidas, Nike, Gap, Maquila Solidarity Network, Honduran coup, Manuel Zelaya, labor rights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, OAS, United Nations Adidas Group, Nike Inc. and Gap Inc. introduced a joint letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday asking her to restore democracy in Honduras, adding that they will not take sides on this issue. The non-partisan stance is a bit of a facade, though, as the letter goes on to state that the companies find it "necessary in this case to join with the President of the United States, the governments of countries throughout the Americas, the Organization of American States, the UN General Assembly and the European Union in calling for the restoration of democracy in Honduras." That puts them pretty squarely on the side of President Manuel Zelaya. While they didn't come right out and say, "We support President Zelaya's return to Honduras," everyone else on that list has.

How to restore democracy is besides the point, the companies say, they just want it restored.  Still, Lynda Yanz, executive director of Maquila Solidarity Network (a labor and women's rights organization who worked with them on the letter), said just getting these manufacturers who make products in Honduras to come out publicly and make a statement is a big deal, and required finesse. The matter is delicate and the letter used careful language to make clear the companies do not support a particular person, but support democracy, civil liberties and labor rights. Nike, adidas and a labor rights group working on the same issue? That is a big deal, too.

Yanz said the Hondurans who work in the factories have faced political pressure to join pro-coup demonstrations, as much of the private sector in Honduras favors the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti. The companies and labor group believes they are standing up for these workers' rights.

Other companies that manufacture products in Honduras have kept quiet. Yanz mentioned Hanes, Gildan, and Russell Athletic, which have factories in the country, among them.

"They say, 'We of course are in favor of democracy,' but we don't find that sufficient or acceptable," Yanz said. "We want to push more brands to play a positive role."

 In the meantime, Secretary of State Clinton has a lot of sportswear on her side.

--Catherine Lyons

Photo: A police helmet sits on a fence in front of a military outpost at El Paraiso, Honduras. As the negotiations drag on, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has ensconced his government-in-exile in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, near the Honduran border, along with hundreds of supporters camped out in shelters. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

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