The racks at the Haverford College bookstore are lined with sweatshirts, T-shirts, and other apparel manufactured by JanSport. Whereas some consumers may overlook the means of production, Haverford Students Against Sweatshops (HSAS) is looking deeper into the injustices inflicted on the workers that produce those items.
One of such injustices took place on April 24, 2013 in Bangladesh. Over 2,500 garment workers entered the Rana Plaza on that morning, according to The Daily Star. They filtered through the building, whose floors were built in violation of building codes. Later that morning, the concrete collapsed and crumbled to the ground, all eight floors, trapping, injuring and killing workers inside.
A year later, The New York Times reported that 1,132 workers were killed from this preventable tragedy. In response, HSAS is advocating for worker safety to prevent such disasters from repeating.
“As college students we have enormous power to pressure Haverford and other universities to stop supporting companies that force workers to risk death every day they go to work,” said Alexander Egilman ’16, an HSAS member.
HSAS aims to end Haverford’s relationship with clothing companies that put their overseas workers in danger, like VF Corporation (the manufacturer of JanSport and VF Imagewear collegiate attire), which is known for its mistreatment of workers, low-wages, and the hazardous working conditions that garment workers must work in. The ultimate goal of HSAS is to pressure the administration to end their contracts with VF Corporation, as has been done already by 14 other colleges and universities as part of a campaign for worker safety by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). USAS is the largest student organization fighting for workers rights in the US, with more than 150 chapters on campuses nationwide.
“Haverford strives to nurture an environment of social responsibility, and we’d be negligent as students if we ignored the consumer impact that we and our institutions have on the world,” said Melissa Lee-Litowitz ’15, a member of HSAS.
HSAS plans on pressuring the administration in a variety of ways, including delivering a letter to President Dan Weiss and other decision makers at Haverford. They also plan to urge a local REI to cut their contracts with VF Corporation by protesting in one of their stores on October 5.
“We are only demanding that Haverford live by the values of social justice to which it professes, by standing in solidarity with Bangladeshi workers and severing ties with VF Corporation,” Egilman said.
USAS produced the End Deathtraps Campaign Packet, updated for Fall 2014, describing VF Corporation as the largest apparel company in the world, with over $11 billion in annual revenue. VF Corporation and other retailers “place cut-throat price and delivery pressure on factory owners in Bangladesh who meet these demands by paying one of the lowest wages in the world of just $68 a month and cutting costs necessary to ensure worker safety,” according to the packet. As a result, most garment workers in Bangladesh are forced to work in buildings that are poorly constructed and lack proper fire exits.
After the Rana Plaza collapse, USAS and labor unions around the world joined Bangladeshi workers in holding actions to demand that brands take accountability for the worker safety crisis in Bangladesh. These actions have pressured over 175 apparel brands and retailers to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an agreement between global and Bangladeshi unions and apparel brands.
The Accord requires companies to follow a set of worker safety regulations, including inspections by independent fire and safety professionals and obligatory repairs and maintenance of factories. VF Corporation has refused to sign onto the Accord and thus create a safe working environment for garment workers in Bangladesh.
In solidarity with Bangladeshi garment workers, Haverford Students Against Sweatshops and other USAS chapters across the US are fighting to get VF Corporation to sign onto the Accord. By cutting ties between colleges and VF Corporation brands, including JanSport, these groups hope to pressure VF Corporation to agree to the Accord. Colleges and universities are especially powerful in this fight for worker justice because of their highly profitable licensing contracts with VF Corporation and other retailers that sell collegiate apparel.
This is not the first time Haverford students have been fighting for worker’s rights. Fourteen years ago, the HSAS successfully pressured the college to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). The WRC established anti-sweatshop labor standards including higher wages and independent monitoring of factory conditions.
Over 180 colleges and universities have joined the WRC and pledged to only purchase apparel from companies that meet the anti-sweatshop standards. Current Haverford students desire to bring this important issue back into the campus’s conscience.
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