AU completes severing of ties with unsafe factories in Bangladesh
AU terminated its contract with the apparel company JanSport in October, after the company failed to sign an agreement that would hold its factories in Bangladesh to certain fire and building safety standards.
AU End Deathtraps advocated for AU to end all relationships with garment and apparel producers who had not signed on to The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The accord is an international and binding agreement to protect factory workers, according to Sean Reilly-Wood, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who is a member of Student Worker Alliance and part of the AU End Deathtraps coalition.
“We won our campaign,” Reilly-Wood said.
The University ended its licensing contracts with Paramount Apparel and Box Seat Clothing and suspended its partnership with JanSport in September, The Eagle previously reported. JanSport is a subsidiary of VF, which is a large corporation based in the United States that does some of its garment production in Bangladesh, Reilly-Wood said.
President Kerwin received recommendations to end AU’s contracts with corporations that had not signed the accord during the spring of 2014. The recommendation came from the University's Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices and Service that was co-chaired by Linda Argo, who is the assistant vice president of external relations and auxiliary services.
The project team began the legal process of terminating its contract with JanSport on Oct. 9 because JanSport was not in compliance with the University's vendor code of conduct, Argo said by email. The process was complete by Oct. 29, according to Argo.
“I write to inform you that the legal process has concluded and our agent has terminated JanSport's license to produce AU-branded collegiate apparel,” Argo said in an Oct. 29 email to the coalition.
AU End Deathtraps is a branch of the national campaign United Students Against Deathtraps. AU’s branch is made up of a coalition of 12 student groups, including American Dream, Amnesty International, AU Gamers, Bhakti Vegetarian Yoga Club, Eco-Sense, French Club, Muslim Student Association, Queers and Allies, Student Worker Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for Reproductive Justice and The United Methodist Student Association.
“Most students were supportive of the campaign,” Reilly-Wood said.
The group has been pressuring the University to end AU’s apparel licensing contracts with the three companies since Fall 2013.
President Neil Kerwin released a memo to the AU community on April 21 that the University would end all contracts for AU apparel licensees with companies that did not sign the accord within the next 30 days, The Eagle previously reported.
“I received a recommendation of the Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices and Service, to amend AU’s vendor code of conduct to address the concerns associated with the apparel industry in Bangladesh,” Kerwin said in the memo. “I have accepted their recommendation.”
Contract terminations with JanSport did not immediately take place after the 30 day window, because the University was still investigating its parent-company VF Corporation’s labor practices in Bangladesh, The Eagle previously reported.
AU End Deathtraps attempted to contact the administration after the announcement, but there was little communication between the administration and students, according to the press release. The coalition delivered a letter to President Kerwin on Sept. 5 concerning the lack of communication, The Eagle previously reported.
The year-long student action is seen as a victory for both students and Bangladeshi workers.
“This sort of campaign makes universities hold their contracts to the standards of the accord,” Reilly-Wood said.