University News

U. to require vendors to follow labor standards

Companies in Bangladesh producing Brown apparel to be held to stricter labor and safety standards

By
Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2014

President Christina Paxson announced Friday that the University will require all its vendors manufacturing apparel in Bangladesh to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The accord, which went into effect Saturday, was created in response to the factory collapse that killed over 1,000 in Savar, a district outside the country’s capital, last April.

Brown is the ninth school to sign the accord after New York University, Duke University, Temple University, the Pennsylvania State University, Georgetown University, Penn, Columbia and Cornell. In signing, Brown ensures that all companies manufacturing or selling Brown apparel stick to stricter building codes and provide fire safety training for laborers, among other provisions in the accord.

The Brown Student Labor Alliance began advocating for the University to sign the accord last spring after the factory collapse occurred.

“A lot of universities pressure brands, and eventually they cave in,” said Youbin Kang ’14, an SLA member. “It has a lot of lasting change.”

“Having President Paxson embrace the accord and ask Brown University’s licensees to sign on to the accord is a big thing,” wrote Richard Locke, director of the Watson Institute for International Studies and professor of international relations, in an email to The Herald.

“We wanted Brown to be one of the first” to sign the accord, Kang said. Brown was the first university in the nation to be associated with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, a labor advocacy organization that opposes sweatshops, and the first to terminate a licensing agreement with Nike in 2010. “So Brown has been usually super progressive and proactive in that sense,” Kang said.

After months of letters and emails, Paxson created a committee on licensing in the fall, and SLA feared its cause was “going to be caught up in bureaucracy,” Kang said.

SLA members expressed approval of Paxson’s decision to sign the accord, but Kang said they were surprised the process took so long. The University’s vendors have only nine factories in Bangladesh, and Adidas, one of Brown’s main brands, has already signed the accord.

“We thought it was pretty straightforward — not too much to ask, and a lot of schools have done it,” Kang said.

“It is not about how many factories in Bangladesh actually make apparel with the Brown logo on it,” wrote Locke, whose scholarship has partially focused on improving ethical standards in American supply chains abroad.

Locke wrote that the move demonstrates Paxson’s personal and institutional commitment to fairness and social justice as well as a willingness to work with student groups such as SLA. Requiring all of Brown’s vendors in Bangladesh to sign the accord is “an important choice,” he wrote.

On the ground, there is no evidence that the accord alone is making major changes in the health and safety conditions for workers in Bangladesh, Locke wrote, but it is not obsolete. “What is needed, and needed urgently, is for as many different interventions as possible to be launched in Bangladesh,” so that the abysmal working conditions of many large garment factories can be improved, Locke wrote. Accords like this must be combined with “robust government action” in order for workers’ rights problems to be resolved, he wrote.

“My hope is that as scholars and students here at Brown University, we will continue to discover and document ways of improving working conditions in global supply chains,” Locke wrote.