Freshman petitions for fair labor practices with VCU apparel

Honks 4 Love is a student organization that plans to present a petition to President Rao next semester to make sure VCU-branded apparel is produced in factories that support fair labor policies. Photo by Amber-Lynn Taber.

Mark Robinson
Assistant News Editor

Honks 4 Love is a student organization that plans to present a petition to President Rao next semester to make sure VCU-branded apparel is produced in factories that support fair labor policies. Photo by Amber-Lynn Taber.

A group of VCU students is circulating a petition to ensure that VCU apparel is made in factories that practice fair labor policies.

The petition, which is sponsored by Honks 4 Love at VCU, is supporting United Students Against Sweatshops, a national student organization formed in 1997 that petitions for fair-labor treatment of collegiate workers and garment workers that produce collegiate apparel.

The USAS’s anti-sweatshop campaign is supported by the Worker’s Rights Consortium, an offshoot of the USAS that investigates the labor practices in factories of companies that produce university apparel.

More than 180 colleges and universities across the country are affiliated with the WRC, including JMU, U.Va. and William and Mary in Virginia.

Maggie Russolello, the USAS’s southeast regional organizer, has worked closely with Honks 4 Love president Cyrus Bakhshi to aid the effort to organize for USAS at VCU. A senior literary and cultural studies major at William and Mary, Russolello said she believes students can change university apparel policies if they take a stand.

“If we’re going to be paying thousands of dollars in tuition to go to a school … I think we should be able to say where our apparel comes (from) and how the workers that make our apparel should be treated because it affects us as students, too,” Russolello said.

Honks 4 Love held an interest meeting where Bakhshi and others penned the WRC petition, as well as a letter of intent that Bakhshi said they plan to deliver to VCU president Michael Rao.

Honks 4 Love hope to deliver the petition to Rao next semester as long as it has a significant number of signatures, Bakhshi said.

“We hope to have VCU affiliated with the WRC by the end of the spring 2012 semester,” said Bakhshi, a freshman biochemistry major at VCU. “Since Dr. Rao seems like a nice guy, he will most likely want to please the VCU student body and faculty.”

Bakhshi said he emailed Rao and requested information from the VCU budget, including the list of companies that VCU contracts to manufacture its apparel, but received no response.

VCU has apparel contracts with Nike and Adidas, both of which have been cited by the USAS for violating fair labor policy after abruptly closing a factory in Indonesia last January without paying severance pay to 2,800 workers.

Pressure from universities associated with the WRC eventually led to Nike paying more than 1 million dollars in severance pay to the workers.

The petition for VCU to align with the WRC has received support from Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies professor Liz Canfield.

Honks for Love will be circulating the petition in the University Commons on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Currently, the petition has 31 signatures.

2 Comments

  1. I’m the General Manager at Barnes & Noble @ VCU. I thought it might be helpful for readers to know that Barnes & Noble is a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and since 1998, we have required ALL vendors who supply products to our stores to adopt the FLA’s Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct requires strict adherence to workers’ rights. All of the brands sold in our bookstore currently meet labor standards set by the Workers Rights Consortium (WCA), an independent labor rights monitoring organization.

    We recently partnered with Alta Gracia, who has an their industry-leading commitment to provide workers with a sustainable standard of living and the opportunity to raise their families out of poverty. The Alta Gracia clothing line is now available in our store. For more info about our commitment to Fair Labor and partnership with Alta Gracia: http://www.bncnews.com/alta-gracia-improving-lives-one-shirt-at-a-time

  2. Virginia Commonwealth University is committed to conducting business in a socially responsible and ethical manner. To insure that University Licensees (suppliers and vendors) share this same view, all VCU Licensees must comply with the Collegiate Licensing Company and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers Labor Codes of Conduct. All VCU suppliers must disclose factory locations that are subject to outside audits, and be in compliance with the Labor Code standards. The VCU Licensing and Trademarks agreement with any supplier/factory found in violation of the Collegiate Licensing Company or the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers Labor Codes of Conduct will be terminated.

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