Do you own a College of William and Mary T-shirt or other article of clothing? Do you know where it was made or by whom? More importantly, do you know how much the company pays the workers in its factory? Probably not, but you should.
Many of the companies that produce apparel for the College and other universities outsource their labor to other countries, employ a variety of abusive labor practices and impose sweatshop conditions and wages on their workers. In 2006, the College adopted a code of conduct requiring companies producing apparel bearing the College’s name to adhere to certain fair labor conditions. An international body, the Worker Rights Consortium, attempts to enforce the codes of conduct adopted by Universities around the world. The WRC monitors the labor practices of businesses and reports infractions of the code of conduct to universities that use it. The College requires all of its licensees to adopt and follow this code or their contract with the College will be terminated. Recently, Russell Athletics, who produces apparel for the College, has violated not only this Code of Conduct, but also labor and human rights laws at their plants in Honduras. One hundred other universities, including Cornell University, Brown University, Duke University, Georgetown University and Harvard University have terminated their contracts with Russell over these violations.
Since 2007, Russell Athletics has committed a series of flagrant workers’ rights abuses, including shutting down its only two factories with organized unions in Honduras. On Jan. 30, 2009, Russell Athletics illegally fired 1,800 workers from a plant in Honduras, which produced apparel for the College and hundreds of other colleges and universities. The illegally fired workers demanded clean drinking water, fair wages and an end to verbal abuse. The fired workers were placed on a computerized blacklist, making it impossible to find work elsewhere. Because these workers stood up for their basic human rights and an end to sweatshop conditions, they were kicked to the streets. Workers explained that on over 100 occasions, managers directly told workers that if they continued to organize a union, they would close the factory. Instead of negotiating with these workers, and setting an example for the garment industry, Russell closed the factory in the middle of negotiations between the worker’s union and factory management.
Our university’s Code of Conduct boasts, “The College of William and Mary is dedicated to conducting its business affairs in a socially responsible and ethical manner.” If that is true, why hasn’t the College joined the 100 other universities that have acknowledged Russell Athletics’ worker’s rights abuses by cutting their contract? As a WCR affiliate, the College is not only dedicated but also legally obligated to recognize this situation and terminate their contract with Russell. Unfortunately, the committee that reviews and evaluates information about our university’s manufacturing arrangements no longer exists.
As recently as last year, this committee — composed of students, faculty and administrators — was in charge of making recommendations for appropriate action regarding companies that broke our code of conduct. However, the committee is currently defunct. Consequently, our administration has not acknowledged or responded to Russell Athletics’ violations of the code. Until it does, the College will continue to make illegal purchases, and you will continue to wear apparel produced in sweatshops.
E-mail KB Bower and Kim Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.