Anti-sweatshop Group Questions Rutgers’ Commitment

RUSAS Member Raises Questions About JanSport Licenses


by Jackie Weisser

Students working to end Rutgers’ affiliation with companies that rely on sweatshop labor say the university is hedging on its commitment to push suppliers to follow a new international accord, but administration officials say the school remains committed to the July deadline it set two weeks ago for suppliers to sign the accord before they would lose their licenses.

Rutgers University Students Against Sweatshops is working to have Rutgers administration implement the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety into the Rutgers University’s Code of Conduct in response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza Garment Factory on April 24, 2013. The accord cracks down on safety violations and ensures safer working conditions for factory workers in Bangladesh.  RUSAS members met with administration on Tuesday but University President Robert Barchi refused to speak with them, said Hannah Roe of RUSAS in a direct Facebook message.

On April 10, campus officials announced their support for the accord and said that several clothing companies based in Bangladesh could lose their licenses to produce Rutgers University apparel if they do not sign the deal to help eliminate sweatshops, according to RUSAS planned to meet with Barchi on April 24 to further discuss including the accord in the university code of conduct, according to The Daily Targum.

Barchi and the students had come to an agreement to include the accord in the university’s code of conduct after pressure by RUSAS. The group was responding to the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse last year that resulted in the death of over 1,100 workers and in Feb., RUSAS marched down College Ave and surrounded Barchi’s office, demanding a meeting to advocate for the accord, according to New Brunswick Today.

Once the accord is implemented, the university will only sell and endorse apparel from companies who agree to establish safer working conditions for laborers in Bangladeshi sweatshops.

“Colleges and universities have a moral obligation to do everything within their power to help eliminate sweatshop conditions around the world. This accord is the latest milestone in these important efforts and requiring our licensees to abide by the accord is simply the right thing to do,” Barchi said according to the article.

RUSAS member Hannah Roe said in a direct Facebook message that they met with the administration on Tuesday but not with Barchi himself.

“Unfortunately, after President Barchi released his decision he is refusing to meet with us,” said Roe.  According to Roe, they met with Marybeth Schmutz from the Office of Trademark Licensing, Vice President for University Communication and Marketing Kim Manning, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty.

“It would appear that despite the administration’s public statements, they are hesitant with following through on amending the accord,” said Roe.

The administration sent letters out to companies notifying them that they must sign onto the accord but whether or not the administration will follow through is still unclear, according to Roe.  The hesitation seems to come from cutting from JanSport, said Roe. JanSport is owned by VF enterprises which has many sweatshops in Bangladesh, she said.

“JanSport does not technically source from Bangladesh but its parent company does, so we’d still be supporting sweatshop labor by supporting JanSport,” said Roe.

On the JanSport website, the company says, “specific to JanSport and within the context of sourcing in Bangladesh, JanSport does not, nor has JanSport ever, had product manufactured in Bangladesh.”  On the site is a link to VF’s page “We Care: Bangladesh” in which the enterprise outlines its commitment to ending sweatshop labor in Bangladesh.

“We have a Global Compliance Framework to manage our supplier relationships and ensure that people affiliated with VF are treated with respect and guaranteed basic worker rights, with safety paramount among them,” says the site.

According to the national United Students Against Sweatshops, the VF Corporation has a “sizeable presence in Bangladesh and evidence of mishandling of safety hazards in its factories.” Instead of signing on to the Bangalesh accord, however, it “has joined forces with Walmart and the Gap to create a company-controlled, non-binding agreement called the ‘Alliance for Worker Safety.’” The program has been criticized by USAS  for excluding workers and for weaker standards.

In response to claims that the university is hesitant on including the accord, university spokesman E.J. Miranda said the administration remains committed to its implementation.

“We continue to review all of the facts of this matter,” he said via email. “The president spoke clearly and forcefully in support of the Bangladesh accord in the university’s April 10 announcement , where we stated that our licensees have until July 1, 2014, to sign the accord.”

More than 100 brands including Adidas have signed the accord at various universities across the country, according to the Daily Targum. This leaves 13 of 19 companies with Rutgers licenses until the July 1 deadline to sign.