Rutgers Requires Merchandise Manufacturers to Sign Worker Rights Accord, Cutting Ties with Some

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—In response to the harsh treatment in the sweatshops of Bangladesh, as well as the efforts of a collaboration of local student organizations, Rutgers University has cut ties with two clothing manufacturers.

Business relationships with OC Sports/Outdoor Cap and VF Corporation, which owns the Jansport line of apparell, were ended earlier this month.

On July 2, Rutgers cancelled their licensing contracts with the corporations in response to their refusal in participating in the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

This accord, designed to help make all workplaces safe environments by requiring management and trade unions to invest in safer equipment and procedures, was created in response to one of the largest in sweatshop disasters in history, and the largest structural collapse ever.

The eight-story Rana Plaza factory, located in Savar, Bangladesh, collapsed during a workday resulting in the deaths of 1,200 workers and over 2,500 injuries.

Exactly five months earlier, there was another factory disaster at the nine-storied Tashreen Fashions factory, located in the capital of Dhaka, where a fire caused by a short circuit killed over 100 workers and injured around 200 more.

As a result, many organizations and businesses have participated in the accord to improve working conditions and safety procedures in Bangladesh, in order to prevent more tragedies like those from occurring again.

Rutgers asked all 19 companies that use the University's trademarks on merchandise to participate in the Bangladeshi accords, including Antigua Group, Box Seat Clothing Company, E5, Captivating Headgear, Cutter & Buck, College Vault by Twins Enterprise, Knights Apparrel, Imperial, Legacy Athletic, MJ Soffee, New Agenda, Rawling Sports Goods, Outerstuff, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Twins Enterprise, and Zephyr Graphics.

VF Corporation and OC Sports/Outdoor Cap were the only two not sign the accord.

In order to help promote international awareness on workplace safety, student activists from Rutgers University have been putting pressure on Rutgers University’s administration to take action against such blatant violations of human rights.

One of these student organizations, Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), has been at the forefront of the fight, successfully pressuring the Rutgers administration to require its vendors to sign the accord.

Earlier this years , USAS along with other student organizations, held a well-attended event about the Rana Factory Plaza tragedy, where a survivor recounted her terrifying experience of the building collapse.

Along with a Bangladeshi union worker, they advocated stricter safety regulations and more involvement from institutions to cut ties with companies who do not support a safer work environment.

After putting pressure on University President Robert L. Barchi, Rutgers agreed to require their clothing producers to sign the Bangladeshi accord.

"Rutgers University has reaffirmed its commitment to supporting safe working conditions around the world by terminating its trademark licensing agreement with two companies that have failed to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh," said EJ Miranda, a Rutgers spokesperson, told NJ.com.

With the relationship no longer existent, the VF Corporation and OC Sports/Outdoor Cap will no long be allowed to fabricate clothing, attires, and gear that have the Rutgers University logo on them.

The textile giant VF Corporation, which is headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., was founded in 1899 and currently employs 59,000 full time personnel.

VF Corporation said they were disappointed in the decision, because the brand in question (Jansport) is not produced in Bangladesh, though other products made by the parent company are.

“VF Corp. is working closely with the Bangladeshi government, Bangladeshi workers, labor unions, local NGOs, factory owners and other members of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to improve working conditions in Bangladesh," said Craig Hodges, spokesman for the VF Corporation.

"Our work focuses on factory inspections, corrective action planning and remediation, financial support, and fire and electrical safety training for workers.”

Formed in 1977 Outdoor Caps, and its subsidiary OC Sports, are located in Bentonville, Arkansas, the same town where Walmart corporation is based.  Outdoor employs over two hundred employees and owns three distribution centers.

Rutgers United Against Sweatshops member Sam Son, who expressed her content at Rutgers’ decision to stand against the companies: “We are ecstatic that RU decided to make the ethical decision and we hope that our great university will continue to do the right thing.”

As for now, Son said USAS will continue their work and advocacy to the entire Rutgers Community: "We are currently putting pressure on REI stores around the nation in an attempt to get them to cut VF… if they do not sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety."

"Once we've finished this campaign, we intend to keep on doing what we do: fight with workers in solidarity for labour rights!"

Jad is a local writer, organizer, and life-long resident of New Brunswick. He is a graduate of both Rutgers University and The University of Toronto.

He can be reached at 732-474-7924 and [email protected]