U licensee violates code of conduct

The University of Minnesota is closely examining its relationship with a licensee after the company was found to be in violation of the schoolâÄôs code of conduct. Russell Athletic, an apparel manufacturer, was found to have been motivated by anti-union sentiment in its decision to close a plant in Honduras, according to a November report by the Worker Rights Consortium. Because the University is an affiliate of the group, General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the school took the findings seriously and discussed them at meetings shortly after the findings were released. âÄúThe University takes a very dim view of the producer violations of the sort alleged here,âÄù he said. While the school was aware of those findings, it was waiting to hear from another workersâÄô rights group, the Fair Labor Association, before fully assessing the situation. The FLA report was released in late January and solidified many of the WRCâÄôs findings. Before acting, however, the University is giving the company a chance to explain itself, Rotenberg said. He sent a letter to Russell Athletic Monday demanding answers. âÄúIf they have anything to say before we act, I want them to at least have that opportunity,âÄù Rotenberg said. Rotenberg said he wouldnâÄôt preview possible actions, but did say the school will continue to rely heavily on the findings if Russell doesnâÄôt respond. The schoolâÄôs actions mirror those that the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Penn State University made in their attempts to get clarity about RussellâÄôs alleged actions. The University made $26,471 from its contract with Russell in 2007 , according to University spokesman Dan Wolter. The contract ends in March 2010 and was originally signed in 2003. Licensing contracts for the University are handled by a third-party firm, the Collegiate Licensing Company. If the school decides to cut ties with Russell, however, the remainder of that term would be void at the UniversityâÄôs request, Rotenberg said. The University of Minnesota Bookstores sell Russell products like T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and fleece jackets that bear school logos. Retailers like Goldy’s Locker Room also carry products from the company, Stadium Village store manager Jon Mueller said. The University’s Trademark Licensee Code of Conduct states that, âÄúLicensees shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.âÄù The same section of the code also spells out how union organizers should have equal access to employees. The Fair Labor Association found similar problems at the factory. While the group’s report concluded that unionizing wasn’t the reason for the decision to close the factory, its findings âÄúraise serious questions about Russell CorporationâÄôs adherence to freedom of association and the protection of workersâÄô rights.âÄù The company did not respond to requests for comment, but it has been reported that the decision to close the factory stemmed from economic pressures and not unionizing concerns. But that grey area hasn’t stopped other schools from taking action. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is severing its ties with the company at the end of its agreement in March, the school announced last week. Murky conversations with Russell on the topic led to unresolved questions, and that forced the school to take action, according to a statement. âÄúWe are a university that wants to do the best for workers making products bearing our name,âÄù Dawn Crim, assistant to the chancellor for community relations, said in a statement. Students at Penn State University protested the school’s administration two weeks ago calling for the end of the contract.