Syracuse University plans to cut ties with all Bangladeshi merchandise producers who do not sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh by June 30.
For about six months, the United Students Against Sweatshops organization at SU has pushed SU to implement the accord on licensees in Bangladesh. Last week, the USAS accomplished its goal.
“As an institution the university is concerned with the working conditions at the factories producing items which contain university trademarks,” Jamie Cyr, the director of auxiliary services and university trademark licensing, said in an email.
Bangladeshi garment factories have recently been hit with hardships, including a fire in the Tazreen factory and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory. According to the website detailing the accord, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh focuses on making these factories safe for workers and deals with the current challenges the garment industry faces.
On April 9, Bangladeshi workers will stop by SU and share their stories and speak about their experiences in Bangladesh.
Jose D. Godinez, a sophomore entrepreneurship major, brought the USAS chapter to SU during his freshman year. He traveled to Bangladesh last summer with other students from universities across the U.S. and met with Bangladeshi factory workers.
“It was very personal to me, and I wanted to make it personal for the school administration too,” he said.
Godinez spoke to a factory worker who had lost his wife in the Tazreen fire.
“It was really hard to take in,” he said. “But at the same time, it was motivation for me to come back and really make sure that the clothes we buy in our bookstore are made with a certain level of standard and that workers aren’t risking their lives to make (them).”
Mehak Ali, a sophomore public relations and psychology major, is also a member of USAS at SU. Ali was born in Pakistan, a country where factories bear similar conditions to those in Bangladesh. It sparked her interest in the organization.
“I think that if we raise the issue enough and make a difference in one country, we can make a difference in sweatshop conditions beyond Bangladesh,” she said.
SU is a member of the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association, Cyr said.
“The working conditions and rights of individuals has been and continues to be a point of emphasis for Trademark Licensing,” he added.
Cyr said he hopes that all the producers of merchandise in Bangladesh sign the accord, but the licensees who do not agree to the accord will no longer be able to produce SU merchandise.
Although the number of licensees that will agree to sign the accord is unclear, Cyr explained that the price of SU apparel will not drastically change, if at all. Currently, there are 29 factories in Bangladesh that have the rights to create SU apparel and nine of them have not yet signed the accord, according to the WRC.
“Due to the small percentage of Syracuse licensees producing in Bangladesh the new requirement will have little if any impact,” he said.
However, there are ways to get around signing the accord. Cyr said since it is strictly specific to Bangladesh, licensees can move to other countries and still maintain relations with the university.
For example, one of the licensees SU has a contract with, VF Corporation, owns brands such as JanSport and North Face, Godinez said. When the Worker Rights Consortium attempted to inspect VF factories in Bangladesh, universities had to get involved to allow the WRC into the factory. The WRC noted many violations. However, instead of improving factory conditions, VF simply removed its collegiate merchandise production from Bangladesh.
“The fact that VF is now pulling all their collegiate apparel outside of Bangladesh is just so they don’t have to sign the accord,” Godinez said. “I mean, I just don’t think we as a school should be having any kind of relationship with them, period.”
Check out the original article on The Daily Orange website.