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Cornell University ends deal with apparel maker Russell
Mar '09
Cornell University announced that it is ending its business relationship with Russell Athletic on March 31, 2009. The decision was made after a review of the facts surrounding the closure of a Russell apparel factory in Honduras on Jan. 31, 2009. Investigations by the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association both concluded that the closing of the factory, Jerzees de Honduras, which was described by Russell as an economic decision, was also due in part to anti-union animus.

"Cornell is committed to respecting the rights of workers around the world and we expect the companies that are licensed to produce Cornell apparel to share that commitment," said Mike Powers, director of operations for Cornell University Communications, which oversees Cornell's licensing program. "Russell's actions in this case are a clear violation of the codes of conduct that Cornell licensees agree to follow when they become licensed."

Other universities that are ending their Russell contracts over this issue include Georgetown, Wisconsin, Miami, Rutgers, Houston, Columbia and Purdue. Others are expected to follow.

Russell, which is owned by Fruit of the Loom, produces T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts and fleece apparel that is sold in stores throughout the United States and overseas. According to Gary Swisher, deputy director of Cornell's campus store, Russell products account for approximately 15 percent of the store's annual apparel sales. Swisher stated that he will stop ordering from Russell immediately.

The Jerzees de Honduras factory employed approximately 1,800 workers, 750 of whom were members of a union that had been organized to seek improved working conditions and better pay. The union workers had been the targets of intimidation and threats during the months leading up to the closing of the factory. Russell has since announced the creation of a Corporate Social Responsibility Improvement Process to review its stance on worker rights and community involvement.

"We applaud Russell's willingness to begin such a remediation effort," said Powers. "We will be watching with great interest as they work through this process."

Cornell University

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