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The University of Minnesota's Licensee Code of Conduct

Another Opportunity to Do the Right Thing, Bob?

From Statement By President Robert H. Bruininks Regarding Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), April 24, 2007

University President Mark Yudof wrote, “The University of Minnesota must unequivocally insist upon safe, decent working conditions for those who manufacture University-licensed apparel.� The University subsequently adopted its Trademark Licensee Code of Conduct (Code). That Code applies to all licenses issued by the University for the production of University logo apparel. It expresses the University’s commitment “to conducting its business affairs in a socially responsible and ethical manner,� and its expectation that licensees of the University shall “conduct their business in a manner consistent with this Code of Conduct.� The Code establishes standards that licensees must meet in the areas of wages and benefits, working hours, overtime benefits, child labor, forced labor, health and safety, nondiscrimination, harassment or abuse, freedom of association, collective bargaining and women’s rights. The University remains firmly committed to these principles.

From the University of Minnesota Morris Campus Newspaper, The University Register:

On October 8, Russell Athletic, a supplier of apparel to the University of Minnesota, announced their decision to close one of their largest Honduran factories. Russell’s decision to close the factory comes directly on the heels of efforts by workers at the factory to negotiate with the company for better wages and improved working conditions. The closure is a blatant violation of the University of Minnesota’s licensee code of conduct. Robert Bruininks, as president of the entire University of Minnesota, must cut our contract with Russell immediately to ensure that brands take our university’s labor standards seriously.

Last spring, Russell fired more than 140 workers in an effort to crush workers’ efforts to form a union. Thanks to intervention by universities, the fired workers were offered reinstatement and Russell agreed to recognize and negotiate with their union.

In October, the company announced plans to close its Jerzees de Honduras factory, one of the few collegiate factories in the world where workers had been able to successfully exercise their right to form an independent union, in large part due to intervention by universities and students.

Russell claims that the decision to close the factory is based solely on economic reasons, but a recent investigation by the Worker Rights Consortium found more than 100 incidents where Russell management had told workers that the factory would be closed because of the union.

Russell’s decision to close the Jerzees de Honduras facility is yet another salient example of why it is so imperative that President Bruininks immediately adopt the Designated Supplier Program (DSP). Over the past two years, we have seen dozens of factories shut down after making real strides to enforce university codes of conduct.

In many cases, it appears that major apparel brands decided to pull their orders from the facilities because they were unwilling to pay the slightly higher costs that are an inevitable result of a factory taking workers’ rights seriously. The Jerzees de Honduras closure is the most recent in a string of closures that have resulted in thousands of fired workers who are unable to find jobs and support their families. The DSP was created specifically to prevent this from happening, and to reward factories that respect workers’ rights, instead of punishing them with a loss of business. Unless the University of Minnesota adopts the DSP, workers making our clothes will continue to be faced with a choice between their jobs and their rights, just as we’ve seen at Jerzees de Honduras.

If we allow Russell to shut down one of the only university logo apparel factories in the world where workers have been able to successfully exercise the basic right to form an independent union, we send a message to all apparel brands that it is acceptable to violate our licensee code of conduct, as long as they can provide an excuse, no matter how weak. What brands will understand from this is that as long as they pretend to respect workers’ rights for a few months, they can simply turn around and close the factory when no one is watching.

If the University of Minnesota does not act now, it will send a clear message to workers throughout the university logo apparel supply chain that codes of conduct are meaningless. Despite the pervasive climate of fear and intimidation that exists throughout the garment industry in Central America, workers at Jerzees de Honduras were able to successfully form a union and begin to negotiate a contract. When workers learn that Jerzees de Honduras is closing, the obvious conclusion is that any attempt to exercise their rights will be met with a loss of jobs and livelihood for themselves and their families. This closure will undermine not only the university’s past efforts on this case, but all attempts everywhere to make codes of conduct meaningful.

The University of Minnesota must immediately sever our contract with Russell Athletic. The University of Miami, a major licensing school, has already done so, and many others are considering it. We cannot afford to continue to stand by the sidelines while other schools do the right thing. Student activists from the Duluth, Twin Cities, and Morris chapters of the Minnesota Public Interest Group have demanded that President Bruininks take action, and that he do so before spring semester commences. The University of Minnesota and Russell may continue to make excuses about why they can’t do the right thing, but there’s simply no excuse for violating workers’ rights.

If we don't want to let Victoria's Secret use our logo because it sends out a bad message, how can we possibly let Russell continue to use it? Doesn't this send out the message that our licensee code of conduct is a farce? Bob?

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