February 26, 2024

Students Object to Use of Sweatshop Labor on College Clothing

At Ohio State, many students and professors are pressing the university’s administration not to sign a proposed multimillion-dollar deal with the Cowboys’ affiliate, Silver Star Merchandising. And at the University of Southern California, students returning to campus this fall are voicing outrage that their school signed an ambitious 10-year licensing deal with the Cowboys last May while keeping the negotiations secret from the students.

Natalie Yoon, president of the United Students Against Sweatshops chapter at Ohio State, said: “This proposed licensing deal is very problematic given the Dallas Cowboys’ labor history. Just skimming the surface, we found the Cowboys produced merchandise at four factories that have egregious sweatshop violations.”

That anti-sweatshop group, with more than 150 college chapters nationwide, said Silver Star Merchandising had used one factory in El Salvador that, according to monitoring groups, threatened union supporters, had drinking water that was contaminated and illegally forced employees to work huge amounts of overtime. The group cited a second El Salvador plant that factory monitors said had spied on union supporters and put them in worse jobs at lower pay.

United Students Against Sweatshops also said that Silver Star had manufacturing done at an Indonesian factory that suddenly closed, its owners fleeing, without paying $3 million in legally required severance pay owed to its 2,800 employees.

The Cowboys’ Silver Star Merchandising subsidiary acknowledges that it, like many other American apparel companies, has used some factories that had problems, but it said it was trying to improve conditions at those facilities.

“We are very serious about our social compliance responsibilities,” said Bill Priakos, Silver Star’s chief operating officer. “We have a very aggressive code of conduct for all factories representing our brand.”

In 1996, the Cowboys became the first football team to insist on handling its merchandise rights in-house. Jerry Jones, the team’s owner, sought to extend the team’s retail expertise last year by founding Silver Star, which says it is seeking to produce and distribute college-logo apparel for a limited number of prominent universities, starting with U.S.C. and Ohio State. His son Jerry Jones Jr. is Silver Star’s president.

The anti-sweatshop groups have tussled in recent years with Nike, Gap, Russell Athletic and other companies, pushing them to improve poor conditions at some of the factories they use. Now these groups have made Silver Star their newest target, arguing that it, as the new kid on the block, has not done its human rights homework and has an especially bad track record in using factories with violations.

Rick Van Brimmer, Ohio State’s director of trademark and licensing services, said his university would not consider a licensing deal with a company that did not take workers’ rights and codes of conduct seriously.

“Whether we are talking about prospective licensees or existing licensees,” he said, “we are committed to an aggressive and meaningful corporate social responsibility program.” He said this meant engaging with “companies that share those goals” and were willing to work on corrective measures.

Both Silver Star and Mr. Van Brimmer said their philosophy was not to walk away from a bad factory, but to press the factory to make needed changes.

Julia Wang, a U.S.C. sophomore who is a co-president of the school’s Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, said students were angry that they learned of their school’s Cowboys deal only through news reports.

“We asked how they managed to sign a deal with the Cowboys without any student input when there are all these widely known cases of sweatshop abuse in some of the factories they use,” Ms. Wang said. “We asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ and again and again all we’ve gotten are wishy-washy answers. We’re looking for improved policies and action.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=777d19496dcf720c632a59ae97e3ca31

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