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SLA calls on U. to sign worker protection accord

After a Bangladeshi factory collapsed, SLA asked Paxson to add to the vendor conduct code

Nine students from the Student Labor Alliance gathered on the Main Green Monday afternoon to deliver a letter to President Christina Paxson advocating stronger worker protections in the University’s contracts with businesses.

Dawn Silvia, executive assistant to the president’s office, told SLA members that Paxson was out of the office for the day but that she would be happy to pass the message along.

The letter, sparked by a Bangladeshi building collapse this April that killed and injured thousands, asks the University to add the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to its Code of Conduct for vendors. Written by a group of international union federations and non-governmental organizations this May, the accord legally requires signees to enforce workers’ rights to safe and secure working conditions for at least five years, according to the International Labor Rights Forum website.

Students delivered the letter with a concrete brick to convey “the heft and gravity of the situation,” said Stoni Tomson ’15. “It’s a symbol that this is a foundational right,” she added.

SLA members want to make sure the Bangladeshi building collapse is “not just seen as another tragedy,” Stephanie Medina ’14 told The Herald. Because “no U.S. collegiate brand has signed” the accord, SLA members hope that adding it to the University’s Code of Conduct will force vendors to comply with its rules, she added.

U.S. companies, including Gap and Walmart, have proposed the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative as an alternative code, but “that is not legally binding,” Medina said.

Last year, SLA pushed for the University to cut its contract with Adidas unless the athletic company gave severance pay to workers at the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia, which it agreed to do April 24.

That same day, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which housed clothing factories and other businesses, collapsed, Tomson said. Though the Adidas announcement was cause for celebration that day, news of the disaster “was also really horrific and evidence that this is a systemic problem that we have to keep fighting,” she said.

Students said the Bangladesh campaign builds on the group’s commitment to ensuring that the University encourages fair labor practices. The Adidas campaign was meant “to enforce our University’s Code of Conduct,” said Mariela Martinez ’14, while the Bangladesh campaign is meant “to strengthen our University’s Code of Conduct.”

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