The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation plans to meet with USC officials next week to encourage the school to join an independent labor rights monitoring organization, in an effort to ensure the university works with socially responsible companies.
SCALE has previously tried to stop USC from working with Russell Athletic, a supplier of clothing at the Pertusati Bookstore. SCALE claims the company exploited about 1,800 workers who were fired from a factory in Honduras last year.
The coalition says Russell Athletic closed down the factory and blacklisted its workers to prevent them from informing others about the work conditions. It was an effort to prevent unionization, according to Elias Kohn, a member of SCALE and a sophomore majoring in sociology.
“Last year, there was a lot of debate about whether the factory closed down for economic reasons or as a policy to discourage unionization,” Kohn said. “Now it’s fairly undebated that discouraging unionization played at least a significant role in Russell’s action.”
Representatives of Russell Athletic have denied the allegations. The company says it closed the factory mainly for business reasons and because of the economic downturn.
SCALE now says it will settle for a goal the group has long held: getting the school to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a global watchdog for labor rights that ensures companies like Russell Athletic have clean records.
USC is already a member of the Fair Labor Association, an organization of universities, colleges and companies that works to improve working conditions in factories around the world. The FLA is currently conducting its own evaluation of Russell Athletic’s labor practices.
“What the FLA offers is, it does bring all the stakeholders to the table,” said Matt Curran, director of licensing and social responsibility at USC. “The FLA is doing a pretty thorough investigation of what went on in Honduras with the Russell factory closure.”
The FLA’s report was originally expected to be published Thursday, but the labor association has given the company another 45 days, in addition to the 90 days it already received, to explain and provide evidence about the causes for the layoffs and the factory’s closure.
“They’re still in the process of negotiation,” Curran said. “It sounds like positive progress is being made and they don’t want to interrupt that process.”
SCALE, however, believes the FLA’s delay is because the organization’s policies are not as the WRC’s. Its sponsors might dictate what to pursue, which could lead to some issues being overlooked, Kohn said.
“[FLA is] not adequate because it’s self-policed,” Kohn said. “Corporations play a role in some of their procedures … WRC gets money from grants and clothing sales.”
The report’s postponement means November’s meeting between SCALE and the administration will include a discussion about the WRC open to USC, with members from the coalition hoping to push the university about joining WRC.
“The fact that they put them off by 45 days will probably be discussed,” Kohn said. “I just don’t see WRC putting people on multiple remediation plans.”
Although the administration wants to have a constructive dialogue with SCALE, Curran said it would not decide until the FLA report is published.
“I think all options are still on the table,” he said. “It really depends on the results of this investigation.”
In the past, SCALE has protested by locking themselves in the president’s office or taking other extreme measures. But this year, the group intents to take a more collaborative approach.
“[We want to] find an issue that we can work together on. We hope we have the same long-term goals to help the workers,” Kohn said.
But other members of the coalition say those past events helped raise awareness about SCALE and encouraged the university to meet with the group.
“Because of those protests we have a certain amount of name recognition and influence around campus,” said Elisabeth Gustafson, a junior majoring in history. “Students on campus trust that we’re going to follow up with action.”
Kohn added that if the FLA report comes out without any blaming Russell Athletic, they would consider alternative actions.
“If we can’t find common ground or the WRC is rejected, our next move is a boycott of the bookstore,” he said. “That won’t really happen because [the administration has] been really vocal about working together, as we have been.”