Hanesbrands CEO had millions of dollars, zero ethics

by Jim Longworth

Last week Hanesbrands reported that CEO Richard Noll received over $8.5 million in salary and other compensation for 2007. That included a $1.2 million bonus for a job well done. Speaking unofficially for the nearly 14,000 American families devastated by Noll, let me congratulate the CEO for his unprecedented greed and lack of ethics.

As if news of Noll’s exorbitant earnings weren’t enough to make a decent person bristle up, company executives also patted themselves on the back for announcing that Hanesbrands will build a $75 million plant in China, employing 1,000 people. Hey, that’s about the same number of people as Noll laid off in Winston-Salem last year. No wonder he deserved a $1 million bonus.

But wait, there’s more terrific news: Noll is proud of the fact that his company won’t just operate the Chinese plant, but that Hanesbrands will actually own it. Why is that significant for Mr. Millionaire? According to one of Noll’s flunkies, Matt Hall, ownership of the Chinese plant will “make it easier for us to operate our ethical labor standards.”

Excuse me? Ethical labor standards?

You mean like moving nearly 80 percent of your US workforce to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean and Asia?

You mean like eliminating subsidized medical benefits for retirees right at Christmas time?

You mean like promising that Hanesbrands would remain a dominant force in Winston-Salem, then shutting down several plants and putting thousands of people out of work?

You mean like laying off nearly 14,000 Americans in the first year of Hanesbrands spin-off from Sara Lee?

You mean like asking taxpayers to pay for up to two years worth of re-training and other compensation for the thousands of people Hanesbrands laid off?

Noll doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the phrase “ethical labor standards.” What he does know is how to ruin families, hoodwink local officials and get a free ride from the media. For example, The Winston-Salem Journal has been diligent in writing about Hanesbrands’ financial reports, but has yet to call for the chamber of commerce or city council to formally censure Noll for his deeds against local workers.

And why hasn’t the government launched an investigation of how Hanesbrands has abused the spirit (if not the actual letter) of the Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Act? Why is it that Congress can spend time quizzing baseball players about steroids but can’t call a hearing to look into corporate abuses of NAFTA and its associated programs?

Two weeks ago Congress put subprime lenders on the hot seat and accused them of profiting on the backs of unsuspecting homeowners. So why not call Richard Noll and other corporate pirates up to DC for a serious sit-down?

The reason is that the foreclosure crisis is the flavor of the month. It is widespread and serious, and should be investigated. But abuses of the American work force by CEOs like Noll have helped trigger the economic conditions which led many people to seek more affordable loans in the first place.

Noll is smart enough to realize that lawmakers are apathetic to wheels that don’t squeak, and so long as he uses the right buzzwords (such as “ethical labor standards”) he can fly in under Congressional radar. And if Noll’s phrase “ethical labor standards” sounds familiar, it should. They are the exact words used by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in describing how NAFTA should be reformed. But that doubletalk just means that the next president (whoever he or she may be), plans to do nothing to punish companies that keep draining jobs out of America, so long as they provide clean working conditions for slave laborers in other countries. And that brings us to the Fair Labor Association.

The FLA, headquartered in Washington DC, is an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of workers and improving working conditions in plants around the world. Right now, for example, the FLA is on a crusade against Hermosa Manufactruring of El Salvador for closing a plant and laying off workers.

It’s a crusade with merit, and I applaud the FLA for its dedication to disenfranchised employees who are treated unfairly. But it should be more careful about who it admits to the organization.

Last week, Noll announced that Hanesbrands had recently joined the FLA.

Is that because such membership serves as yet another way to deflect attention away from worker abuses here at home? Or, was it because Noll believed that the FLA would never investigate unfair treatment of workers by a new FLA member company? I emailed the president of FLA to express my concern over admission of Hanesbrands to his esteemed organization, but, I have yet to receive a reply.

And so, how much longer will Congress turn a blind eye to possible abuses of the Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Act? How much longer will the Triad media and local officials keep sucking up to Hanesbrands as if nothing has happened? I’m sorry, but what Richard Noll has done over the past 18 months is not a victimless crime. He has profited from the misery of others in a way that makes subprime predators look like saints.

If Congress wants to know how to help people who face losing their homes, it should turn its attention to CEOs who boost our unemployment lines just so they can earn higher profits and bigger bonuses.

And I don’t care how many fair labor associations Richard Noll joins; he is still a robber baron of the worst kind.

So here’s to you Mr. Noll. Congratulations on your new Asian plant, and your $8.5 million salary, and to your ethical labor standards at Hanesbrands.

Just remember what Confucius say: “Man who sends his panties to China, exposes backside as true self here at home.”