May 6, 2009 12:00

Hanesbrands, swines share spotlight

Last week Hanesbrands announced it was eliminating another 440 jobs from the local workforce, saying the move was caused by “reduced consumer spending… during a bleak economy.” If the situation wasn’t so tragic, I would be doubled over with derisive laughter. Of course consumer spending is down; that’s what happens when people lose their jobs. Of course the economy is bleak; that’s what happens when skanky companies like Hanesbrands keep moving those jobs overseas where they can pay slave wages with no benefits in order to improve the bottom line. But unlike Dell, which cloaks its layoffs in secrecy, Hanesbrands openly and unashamedly continues to fire Americans in broad daylight, and send their jobs to third-world countries. Last week’s announcement by Hanesbrands added particular insult to injury by not directing the layoffs to come from its foreign plants first, before further decimating the local workforce. And through it all, after two years of this unpatriotic crap, Hanesbrands management seems to be getting a free pass from just about everyone, which is very strange, given the anger most Americans feel toward greedy corporations these days. That Hanesbrands keeps profiting and pillaging in today’s post AIG environment is almost surreal. In fact, this saga has evolved into a full-blown morality play, featuring five distinct groups of actors: A-holes, apologists, apathists, academics and antagonists.

The A-holes are played expertly by greedy executives who have orchestrated a deliberate downsizing since the day their company split from Sara Lee. CEO Richard Noll’s oft quoted line from 2006 has become the stuff of legends, when he promised that Hanesbrands would “always be a major employer in Forsyth County, and have a strong community presence here.” But the only reason Hanesbrands is still a presence here at all is because Knoll and his minions don’t want to live in the third-world countries where the rest of their employees toil. Speaking of which, Noll has now eliminated nearly 15,000 jobs in the United States and moved those jobs to countries where he can pay slave wages for the manufacture of underwear that he can then ship back to America and sell to unemployed Hanesbrands workers at higher prices than ever before.

Among the apologists, Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson is the most vocal. Anderson’s best apology to date was last week when she told Richard Craver of the Winston-Salem Journal that Hanesbrands continues to support the local economy with “leadership and volunteerism.” Leadership and

volunteerism? First of all, corporate greed is not leadership; stripping retirees of their subsidized medical benefits is not leadership. Second, what exactly is the economic value in having thousands of unemployed volunteers living in the community? When it comes to apathy, no one excels better than the electronic media.

TV news departments continue to broadcast whatever lame, diversionary statement is made by Hanesbrands spokespersons without even taking time to challenge those statements. Yes, I realize that corporate-owned news gatherers are short on staff these days, and that a reporter is not supposed to render opinions, but that doesn’t justify not probing the story or the source.

Hanesbrands is no longer a major employer in America — it is a major pirate who has robbed the country of highpaying jobs, and helped to contribute to our current economic downturn. That’s news. Hanesbrands executives continue to make huge salaries while laying off workers. That’s news. Hanesbrands is abusing the spirit of the Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (recently renamed the Trade and Globalization Adjustment Assistance Act) by filing claims on behalf of the employees it has screwed, and expecting taxpayers to foot the bill for up to 156 weeks of cash payments and training for each affected worker. That’s news. Two years ago Hanesbrands only employed 350 people in China, but today that number has risen to over 6,000.

That’s news.

Richard Noll has shut down 30 American plants in the past two years. That’s news. Noll eliminated subsidized medical benefits for retirees, leaving thousands of families without adequate coverage.

That’s news. And it’s news when a company says it must make cuts in its workforce, but only makes those cuts here in the US, rather than in Central America or Asia. It wasn’t that long ago when the national news media launched blistering attacks on Kathy Lee Gifford for putting her name on a line of clothing made by slave-wage laborers. Today, the news media is too apathetic to investigate similar abuses by Hanesbrands.

Academics, like Michael Lord of Wake Forest University, are the least of the offenders in this play, but you’d think they could be a little less dispassionate about the damage Hanesbrands is doing.

Instead we are treated to analysis of numbers and trends which concludes that job losses are the result of a competitive global market. These guys should know better. They of all people should know that Hanesbrands management isn’t just reacting to depressed global conditions, they are creating those conditions themselves.

Finally, there are the antagonists. Unfortunately, this is the smallest group of actors in the Hanesbrands drama. Only Richard Craver, Journal columnist Scott Sexton and myself offer any substantive challenge to the economic terrorism that Richard Noll is perpetrating on our homeland.

The antagonists are also struck by the irony of Noll’s words versus his actions, and that includes language on the Hanesbrands website stating,

“Hanesbrands strives to attract and retain great people with a passion to do their best, guided by the high ethical standards fitting one of the world’s apparel leaders.”

And then there’s the website of Syrus Global, the leading provider of ethics and compliance solutions, which is headed by Hanesbrands board member Alice Peterson. Its corporate slogan comes from ancient philosopher Publilius Syrus who said, “A good reputation is more valuable than money.” Old Publilius must be spinning in his tomb. And I wonder what he would have said about the irony and juxtaposition of last week’s media coverage. That’s when the announcement by Hansebrands was overshadowed by news of the swine flu. If I were a philosopher, my observation of this saga would suffice for two-legged and four-legged swine alike: Diseased pigs do harm when people fail to stop them. Translation: Don’t buy pork, and don’t buy Hanes underwear.

Eventually the curtain will come down on this long-running morality play, but by then the A-hole producers will have profited handsomely. And when that curtain does finally fall, it will fall hardest on those who sweated blood for a oncegreat production. In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to decide to which category of actors we belong.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

Two years ago Hanesbrands only employed 350 people in China, but today that number has risen to over 6,000. That’s news.

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