U should support fair labor

by Connor O’Brien — MPIRG member

If Nike, Russell, Adidas or any other big name retailer produced your University of Minnesota logo hoodie, odds are they don’t live in Minnesota or even the U.S. for that matter. These companies contract supplier factories for manufacturing their products. Unfortunately, competitive prices at these factories are a direct result of unfair labor practices, and most of the money we spend on University apparel goes to wealthy executives — not the factory workers where it belongs. After recognizing that leasing our logo to these companies supported oppression and inequality, the University, along with a handful of other schools, signed the Workers’ Rights Consortium in 2002.

 

This was a major step toward fair working conditions. In 2009, the clothing brand Russell decided to reopen a factory that was shut down when attempts were made to unionize after a large group of universities cut contracts with the company. Unfortunately, most of the manufacturing in the clothing industry happens via subcontracting and not directly through factories owned by the parent company, as was the case with Russell. This makes working directly with companies nearly impossible, because putting the blame for unfair labor elsewhere is an easy task.

The designated suppliers program is a project started by the Workers’ Rights Consortium, working directly with subcontracting manufacturers to ensure that a college can choose who makes their products and under what conditions.

Although the program hit some bureaucratic inertia, as of 2011, all we need is a signature from President Eric Kaler to ensure that the University logo and our student body don’t support child or bonded labor. It would promote a living-wage for workers. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group has been working on this issue. Talks with Kaler are in progress, which means University logo apparel could soon be manufactured using strictly fair labor practices!