April 24, 2014

Students Demand Cornell Terminate Its JanSport Contract

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On Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed over 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers, Cornell students gathered on Ho Plaza to demand that the University cease to partner with corporations that support sweatshop labor — specifically clothing manufacturer JanSport.

The Cornell Sweatfree Coalition, a partnership of student groups including the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, Cornell Students Against Sweatshops and KyotoNOW!, sponsored the event, where protesters called for the Cornell Store to stop selling JanSport products by hanging a banner comprised of t-shirts covered with hundreds of signatures above the store’s Ho Plaza enclave. The t-shirt petition was then delivered to President David Skorton’s office.

“Today is a national day of action, where students and workers are standing in solidarity with the Bangladeshi factory workers who died in Rana Plaza,” said Allison Considine ’17, a member of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action. “We’re asking Cornell to cut our contract with JanSport.”

Though JanSport products specifically are not produced in Bangladesh, other products produced by VF Corporation, its parent company, are produced there. According to Steck, VF has refused to sign the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh — an independent agreement designed to make all garment factories in Bangladesh safe workplaces.

“We sell JanSport in the Cornell Store, and … all the profits are going back to that same conglomerate of VF,” Considine said. “There are tons of [VF] brands producing [in Bangladesh], and they are making money off of exploiting Bangladeshi workers.”“We consider JanSport’s relationship with VF entirely separate from its relationship with Cornell.” — President David Skorton

In February , President David Skorton announced that the University intends to require all licensed apparel contractors to abide by the Accord, calling it “a fair, transparent and unbiased approach to factory inspection and remediation.” However, JanSport remains technically unaffected.

“Cornell is requiring licensees doing business in Bangladesh to become signatories to the Accord in order to continue to be licensed by the University,” Skorton said in a letter to the Cornell Sweatfree Coalition. “JanSport does not do business in Bangladesh, therefore we will not end our licensing relationship. We consider JanSport’s relationship with VF entirely separate from its relationship with Cornell.”

Members of the Cornell Sweatfree Coalition said they disagree with the administration about the dynamics of this relationship and said they view the license with JanSport as support of dangerous work environments and sweatshop labor.

“Getting that written into [the University’s] code of conduct was a victory for us,” said Amy Frieder ’15, the treasurer of COLA. “But it means absolutely nothing if we don’t enforce it. And so we’re pressuring the University to uphold standards that we’re setting for ourselves.”