University News

SLA members join labor march

Activists protested Old Navy’s refusal to sign a Bangladeshi factory safety agreement

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

About 20 Brown students marched Monday to Old Navy at the Providence Place Mall, where they joined the Rhode Island Jobs with Justice coalition to mark Labor Day by rallying for workers’ rights both abroad and closer to home.

Around 100 protesters — including members of the Brown Student Labor Alliance, hotel and service workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 217 and labor advocacy group Fuerza Laboral — called on Old Navy and other apparel brands to sign on to the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh in the wake of the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed 1,129 garment workers in April.

Gap, which owns Old Navy, and Walmart — both of which rely heavily on Bangladeshi labor — have refused to sign the legally binding accord.

The SLA marched from the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to Old Navy carrying a banner that said “End Death Traps in Bangladesh” and chanting slogans like “When Bangladeshi workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Mariela Martinez ’14, an SLA member who recently traveled to Bangladesh, told the crowd assembled in front of Old Navy that college students must stand up for those who died in Bangladesh.

“These are people who look like us. … These are people our own age,” she said.

She urged brands like Old Navy, Gap, the Children’s Place and Walmart to stop “profiting off of the exploitation of these young women in Bangladesh.”

The march proceeded to the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel, where Santa Brito and Julian Bello, two hotel employees, shared stories of alleged mistreatment while working at the hotel — an issue separate from worker safety in Bangladesh. Bello said pregnant female workers were not given protection while cleaning with harmful chemicals and that some later suffered miscarriages.

The marchers protested the tax breaks the hotel received, holding an oversize check for $9 million that read “pay to the order of Providence taxpayers for ending tax breaks for bad employers” and chanting, “Sign the check!”

“We have two sacred obligations today. We have an obligation to the workers who came before us,” said Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee. “We also have an obligation to the workers of today and the workers of tomorrow.”

“We cannot achieve economic justice for all workers” without organized labor, he said.

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