Tarrant Closes Mexican Facility

After a string of layoffs and closures at other facilities, Los Angeles–based Tarrant Apparel Group is closing its plant in Ajalpan, Mexico.

On Jan. 26, management at the Ajalpan plant informed its remaining 460 employees that the plant would be closing its doors over a period of six months, according to the Workers Support Center, also known as the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador, in Puebla, Mexico.

The factory employed 1,400 sewers, dyers and finishers to fill private-label orders for American denim brands, including those of Limited Brands Inc., DKNY, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Tommy Hilfiger Corp., Calvin Klein, The Wet Seal Inc. and Bongo, among others.

The factory will keep only 110 employees on payroll for a period of two weeks to complete unfinished production for Bongo. Management issued severance pay to approximately 350 workers and will pay the remaining workers when production is finished, officials at the Workers Support Center said.

“[The factory] was closed because we were not able to achieve the efficiencies were set out to accomplish,” said Gerard Guez, chairman and chief executive officer of Tarrant Apparel Group, which is in the process of putting Tarrant’s Ajalpan factory on the market.

Last year, Tarrant leased its twill mill in Tlaxcala, Mexico, and its denim and twill mill in Ajalpan, Mexico, to Mexican apparel entrepreneur, Kamel Nacif Borge, for a period of 6 years and for an annual rental fee of $11 million.

News of the mass layoffs comes at the end of a yearlong struggle to unionize workers at Tarrant’s Ajalpan plant. On Aug. 6, 750 workers filed registration papers with the local labor board, the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board, to form a union. The factory workers were seeking better working conditions and prompt overtime pay for hours worked after the standard 10-hour workday. The standard wage an apparel worker can earn in Mexico is between $40 and $70 a week.

Negotiations for workers’ benefits were further complicated by Tarrant’s announcement in September that it had signed a 12- year leasing agreement for three of its Mexican facilities for $11 million. Tarrant invested approximately $175 million in capital expenditures on developing its full-package network in Mexico.

“It’s a shame that Tarrant is shutting down its factory after it denied the workers their basic right to organize an independent union,” said Joann Lo, an organizer at the Garment Worker Center, a workers’ rights group in downtown Los Angeles that is working closely with the Workers Support Center to promote unionization of Mexican factories.

Last August, Tarrant laid off approximately 220 garment workers at its Ajalpan factory. Among those laid off were seven people who had formed a committee to negotiate better work conditions and benefits, Lo said.

San Francisco–based Levi Strauss & Co. pulled its production from the factory after an independent review of workers’ allegations. —Claudia Figueroa