The activists of the United Students Against Sweatshops organization took a cake, cards and a letter to ASU President Michael Crow’s office on Friday morning not only to wish him a happy Valentine’s Day, but to ask that the University terminate its contract with VF Corporation brands, sold at ASU campus stores.
Students are concerned that VF Corporation, one of the biggest in the world and a parent company of Jansport, North Face, Timberland and Vans, has been exploiting workers, neglecting safety requirements and repeatedly refusing to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an independent agreement designed to make workplaces safe in all garment factories in Bangladesh.
This long-term campaign started last semester when students asked the University to require all brands that produce ASU apparel in Bangladesh to sign onto the accord, but they haven’t received any public statement yet.
Transborder studies senior Jonathan Londono, president of ASU’s chapter of USAS, said the organization has reached success nationally, as eight universities required their licensees to sign the accord. The ASU chapter succeeded in some ways as well.
“We did succeed in getting the University to talk about the issue,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to meet with the administration on a couple of different occasions to be able to talk about this. We succeeded in getting talks moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any public statement as to ASU’s action will be as of today. It’s still a work in progress.”
Londono said universities have a big voice and power in apparel industry. That’s why his organization’s ultimate goal is to eradicate the use of life-threatening sweatshop labor on a global level by bringing morally and ethically responsible companies, like Alta Gracia, to campus and terminating ties with organizations like VF.
“As customers of the University, we actually have a power to tell our university that we want our products,” Londono said.
Students carried valentines with information about USAS, VF and Alta Gracia to Crow’s office, as well as a cake to make this campaign friendly.
Justice and global studies junior Nicole Hale said she recently joined the organization to help hold the University accountable to standards such as respecting human and liberal rights.
“We are the New American University, and this is something we are doing, as the universities across the country have already started to do — to cut their contracts with companies like VF, who haven’t signed on to the accord,” she said.
Although Crow wasn’t present in his office and the campaigners didn’t have a chance for a personal talk, psychology and sociology senior Sam Montes, one of the officers of USAS at ASU, has a positive outlook on the future of the initiative.
“I’m hoping for a quicker response,” he said. “Last year, it took at least a couple of months before they even got the ball rolling. Even now, they do have the ball rolling, but it’s moving at such a slow pace.”
Even though working things out with ASU wasn’t a piece of cake, USAS at ASU has gained support from other student clubs and organizations. UNICEF at ASU supported the campaign by writing a letter “in solidarity with United Students Against Sweatshops and the garment workers of Bangladesh with grave concern about ASU’s licensing agreements with VF Corporation.”
“We’ve done a lot, hit the nail on the head really hard,” Montes said. “We’ve got so much progress, and now we’re finally sealing the deal.”
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