Dear President C. L. Max Nikias,
Last year, USC faculty and students came together to call on our university to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, the only independent factory monitor in the nation. This was an important first step, and since our affiliation last summer, the locations of Trojan apparel production and detailed reports on the conditions of the relevant factories have been made available to the public via workersrights.org. This step has also given USC the ability to learn more about the brands we do business with — brands like JanSport, whose parent company VF Corporation produces apparel in sweatshop deathtraps. The WRC has provided USC with concrete information regarding the failings of JanSport/VF in their report on Optimum Fashions factory.
The report notes “the inspection uncovered a number of very serious safety hazards at Optimum Fashion, all of which constitute violations of university code of conduct provisions requiring licensees to maintain safe workplaces and any of which could result in injury or death to workers. The violations of greatest concern involve inadequate means for workers to escape the factory in the event of a fire and structural flaws that would facilitate the rapid and widespread propagation of deadly smoke throughout the factory building.”
The lack of adequate means of escaping fires is especially important in light of the fact that in 2010, 29 workers were killed in a factory fire in Bangladesh where VF apparel was being produced. As a result of a disregard for fire safety standards, workers were trapped and could not escape. Despite these events, a 2013 safety assessment of another VF factory revealed serious structural flaws and an alarming lack of appropriate fire exits. In the face of this tragedy, and in light of the fact that 1,500 workers have died in the past two years alone in preventable factory disasters across Bangladesh, VF still refuses to take responsibility and protect the lives of its workers.
JanSport is a part of VF Corporation, and while JanSport has claimed autonomy from its parent company, the truth is that VF directly controls sourcing, operations and safety standards for JanSport factories. According to VF’s 10-K disclosure to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, all VF apparel, for JanSport and their other brands, comes though the same sourcing hubs. Further, JanSport’s own website admits that its global compliance standards are “through our parent Company, VF Corp,” and that it has no worker safety program or initiatives independent of VF.
We the faculty therefore join with concerned students to request that our university cut its contract with JanSport/VF unless the company signs onto the Accord for Fire and Building Safety and is held legally accountable for the safety of its workers. We believe that this is both vital and urgent, and we hope that USC will take responsibility and enact these changes immediately.
Fight On for a sweatshop-free university!
Majorie Becker, History Department
Ginger Clark, Rossier School of Education
Eugene cooper, Anthropology Department
Pamela Douglas, School of Cinematic Arts
Thomas Gustafson, English Department
David E. James, School of Cinematic Arts
Kara Keeling, School of Cinematic Arts
Paul lerner, History Department
Joshua Lewis Goldstein, History Department
Amanda Pope, School of Cinematic Arts
Laura Pulido, American Studies and Ethnicity
William G. Tierney, Rossier School of Education