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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

University should mandate humane apparel production

The University athletics department is finalizing a $9 million exclusive merchandising contract with Nike.

BJ&B was the only unionized factory in the Dominican Republic’s Free Trade Zone, until its closing was announced on February 22, due to Nike pulling out all its business. This exemplifies how Nike business practices lead to international sweatshop exploitation. Not only is Nike a major supplier of retail University of Minnesota apparel, but the University athletics department is in the process of finalizing a $9 million exclusive merchandising contract that would make them the sole producer of University uniforms and sports gear.

BJ&B workers won a collective bargaining agreement in 2003, putting an end to years of labor rights violations. Shortly after this, the brands Reebok (now owned by Adidas), Merge Left, Advon, Brine and Town Talk pulled all their business out – cutting and running to cheaper factories where workers’ rights aren’t being respected. Nike stayed on only because of immense international pressure put on by students and workers rights organizations in the United States and Canada, as well as solidarity from workers in other garment factories around the world.

Nike says now it’s leaving BJ&B because the prices have been higher and delivery times slower since conditions in the factory improved. This means that all factories are being held to the standards that only sweatshops can achieve, with substandard wages, forced overtime and no benefits. Nike is only interested in their bottom line, and doesn’t care that saving a few cents per item means exploitation on a global scale. And it is just a few cents – the Worker Rights Consortium, the University’s official monitoring body, has published a pricing study on its Web site.

Brands like Nike can say universities can’t tell them how to run their business. There is truth in that; when universities take a firm stance for the rights of the workers making their clothing, listening is an option. But one would hope a multimillion dollar contract is a big enough incentive for them to shape up. The University of Minnesota has a code of conduct outlying standards licensees must meet. In 2000, University President Mark Yudof said, “The University of Minnesota must unequivocally insist upon safe, decent working conditions for those who manufacture University-licensed apparel.”

Until its closure, BJ&B had been “one of the most significant achievements to date in the effort to improve working conditions in factories producing university logo goods,” according to Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium, in a letter sent to the University last August. In the same letter, Nova wrote, “BJ&B’s closure would have major consequences, not just for the workers at the factory, but for the entire code of conduct effort. This is a very high profile case. If the factory does close, it will send a powerful message to other factories in the region, and around the world, that truly respecting worker rights, especially the right to unionize, is incompatible with economic survival in this industry.”

The University has been invited to participate in the Designated Suppliers Program, an initiative seeking to advance the common goal of responsible institutions: ensuring that apparel bearing university trademarks is produced under humane working conditions. Thirty other schools are already backing it, including the University of Wisconsin- Madison, the University of Iowa, and Duke University. It’s time for this administration to pick up the work the University started seven years ago with the code of conduct and get Minnesota onto the forefront, pushing hard for responsible practices in university business. There is an online petition going at http://www.petitiononline.com/UofM/ (somehow it contains the first case-sensitive URL I’ve ever seen).

Matt Abbott is a University student. Please send comments to

[email protected]

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