Thanks to a semester-long campaign from the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Penn State will no longer have licensing agreements with clothing companies that support sweatshops in Bangladesh.
Effective March 31, Penn State will make all companies with licensing rights to make Penn State clothing sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, effectively guaranteeing that their company will provide safe working conditions in their factories.
Penn State is the first Big Ten school to officially support the agreement and the sixth school in the United States, however, the USAS hopes Penn State’s participation will spark change in universities around the country.
“Now that Penn State, a major Big Ten apparel school, has taken a stand for worker safety in Bangladesh, we hope other universities will follow suit,” said Anna Leah Kincaid from PSU United Students Against Sweatshops in a press release. “No worker should produce collegiate apparel in a factory where they face the risk of being burned alive or crushed.”
While the step is far from a real end to sweatshops as a whole, it is a fairly significant step for such a major brand and could lead to more action in the future, both from Penn State and other schools. The university is justifiably trying to use this decision for some positive PR points.
“For many years, retailers have promised to do something about the risks inherent in Bangladeshi manufacturing facilities, but little has changed,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs, in a release. “The students and others with whom we have met about this issue have been thoughtful and persuasive. Our University’s impact on the broader issue is limited, but our students have encouraged us again to do what we reasonably can to improve safety in the places that manufacture products for Penn State and its many supporters.”
Penn State’s biggest apparel supplier, Nike, will not have to sign the agreement, as they stopped producing clothing with the University’s logo out of facilities located in Bangladesh in 2012. However, the rest of the suppliers will have to sign the legally binding contract, guaranteeing that more inspections and updates to buildings will be made. The agreement has the potential to save thousands of workers from fires and building collapses that have recently ravaged Bangladeshi factories.
“We agree with our students that our licensees who are sourcing collegiate apparel in Bangladesh must sign the accord and participate in its activities,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. “We believe this is the most effective means for University licensees to protect the lives and safety of workers in that country.”
It is the second major victory in as many years for USAS. The organization successfully pressed the university to end its contract with Adidas last year amid a severance scandal, which was later mitigated and the contract restored.