UCSD Reaches ‘Historic Labor Rights Breakthrough’

Along with nearly 100 universities across the nation — including Duke, Columbia and Harvard — UCSD boycotted Russell Athletics, the largest licensee of retail sales at UCSD, for labor rights violations at its factories in Honduras, where it serves as the largest private-sector company.

In June, UCSD terminated the trademark-licensing contract with Russell that authorizes the company to use the university’s artwork, preventing Russell from legally applying UCSD logos to garments.

The long-time suppliers of UCSD logo apparel — including sweatshirts, T-shirts and sweatpants — agreed to provide workers in Honduras fair labor standards and working conditions on Nov. 14.

“We think these are tremendously positive and indeed historic agreements,” WRC executive director Scott Nova said. “We think Russell deserves credit for embracing this kind of sweeping change. We are very optimistic about the ability of the company and the union to work together to implement the accords.”

The company also agreed to open a new factory, rehire workers, provide them with economic assistance and establish a joint union-management training program.

“The effect on students will be satisfaction that products carrying the Russell label, maybe in the bookstore in the future, will be produced under much-improved labor conditions,” UCSD Bookstore director John Turk said. “Some students are acutely aware of that and care deeply … [They] will feel pretty good about this because their actions made a difference, not just on this campus but nationwide. There’s a lot of power in student activism.”

Turk is also a member of the Committee for the UC Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees, which advised the UC Office of the President to eliminate contracts with Russell Athletics. The committee stated that the company was not in compliance with the code of conduct, and would not be able to retain its license until it met the required standards.

The bookstore requires every one of its vendors to join the Fair Labor Association so it can be informed of any labor-condition violations.

The bookstore replaced Russell with alternate company Wideworld, which manufactures spandex-based products in the United States.

Since January, Russell faced the largest collegiate boycott of an apparell company ever recorded after the WRC investigated the closure of the factories (due to an attempt by workers to unionize) last October. As more student activists and garment workers from the unions of the Confederación General del Trabajo and Sitrajerzeesh campaigned, several members of the UC Congress wrote to the Russell CEO. Shortly after the Fair Labor Association put the company on probation, Russell announced it would make concessions.

“They became much more responsive because they were very concerned about the impact on these university relationships,” Nova said. “The kind of action that UCSD took put a huge amount of pressure on the company, and that made them more interested than they were initially in finding a resolution.”

The Student Workers Collective of UCSD petitioned Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and passed the Resolution for Sweatshop Workers’ Right to Associate and Enforcement of UC Code of Conduct with Russell Corporation.

Working alongside United Students Against Sweatshops — a national organization that advocates for worker rights — SWS arranged an open forum in which two union workers from the Jerzees de Honduras factory talked about the conditions they worked under and how they lost their jobs for unionizing.

“I’m really glad that student solidarity efforts really helped to boost the momentum … to open the factory again,” A.S. Vice President of External Affairs and SWC member Gracelynne West said.

WRC will now monitor the agreements made between the company and the union workers and provide the involved universities with a follow-up report on the implementation process.

“They recognize that it’s a positive step for their company,” Nova said. “They’ve said that they’re very committed to this new partnership with the union. We’ve been encouraged by what they said, and the initial steps they’ve taken to implement the agreement.”

If UCSD receives positive reports from the WRC on the implementation progress, Turk said the decision to send Russell an application to renew its license would be forthcoming early next year.

Readers can contact Regina Ip at [email protected].

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