Effective March 31, any company that sells clothing made in Bangladesh under a Penn State license must sign an Accord on Fire and Building Safety, committing to ensuring safe working conditions. Failure to sign the accord will result in the termination or non-renewal of the license agreement.
The University's decision was announced and came after discussions last semester with the student group USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops), and after closely following the safety hazards affecting the lives of apparel workers in Bangladesh over the last year or more.
The University is sending the letter to all Penn State apparel licensees, and The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) is assisting in confirming information provided by the licensees regarding whether or not they produce any Penn State-licensed merchandise in Bangladesh. The WRC already has confirmed that Nike ceased producing University logo goods in Bangladesh in 2012, so they do not need to sign the accord.
"For many years, retailers have promised to do something about the risks inherent in Bangladeshi manufacturing facilities, but little has changed," said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, who was involved in the discussions on the topic. "The students and others with whom we have met about this issue have been thoughtful and persuasive. Our University's impact on the broader issue is limited, but our students have encouraged us again to do what we reasonably can to improve safety in the places that manufacture products for Penn State and its many supporters."
The accord is a legally binding contract between company signatories and worker representatives, including international and Bangladesh labor unions. It provides for a program of independent inspections and building renovations intended to put an end to the deadly fires and building collapses that have claimed the lives of thousands of apparel workers over the last three years.
"We agree with our students that our licensees who are sourcing collegiate apparel in Bangladesh must sign the accord and participate in its activities. We believe this is the most effective means for University licensees to protect the lives and safety of workers in that country," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson.
In his letter to Penn State apparel licensees, Erickson wrote, "We have been working with our labor rights affiliates to understand how Penn State can have an impact on the improvement of these conditions in a country that represents such a large percentage of the world’s apparel manufacturing.
Having communicated previously with those licensees who source products in Bangladesh about programs such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, we are convinced that collegiate suppliers can achieve improvements in worker safety in that country."
Joe Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, agreed and already has signed the accord. "The accord requires us to have independent inspections of our factories in Bangladesh, from a fire and structural safety standpoint. In light of the recent tragedies, this is clearly in the best interests of our company and of the workers at our suppliers' factories. We look forward to working with the accord's stakeholders, including other companies and labor representatives, to makes sure apparel workers in Bangladesh are safe when they go to work."
Sims praised the students for their role in the process. "It is a matter of social justice, and our students remained vigilant in their pursuit of that justice, persuading us to take this step. President Erickson and the student advocates have reached this good outcome by way of ongoing constructive dialogue between them, which is the best way, of course," Sims said.