Letter to the editor

’ SC apparel needs closer look

Dear USC Community,

As faculty on campus, our labor is valued for our expertise in our fields and our teaching.  Many students look up to us, and we help them find the paths they need to pursue professional life-long goals.

But for those interested in making positive change on campus and in the world, students would do best to look to their peers, who are striving to re-think the value of another form of labor that contributes to making USC a great university.

The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, a student labor rights group at USC, has for the last 14 years been raising the issues of where and under what conditions Trojan apparel is manufactured. This issue has been brought to the forefront of our attention by some of the deadliest sweatshop fires in world history that have occurred in recent months.

In September 2012, the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan caught fire and 289 people perished. Then, in November, the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh went up in flames and 112 workers lost their lives.

In both cases, follow-up investigations found that the factories were producing for European and American clothing brands. The factories had no fire exits and the doors on the ground floor were locked, preventing workers from escaping the smoke and flames. If basic fire safety standards agreed to by international labor rights organizations had been enforced, the loss of life would have been vastly reduced or prohibited.

Unfortunately, USC has ties to both of these tragedies.  USC approves certain monitoring organizations to go into factories around the world and certify that Trojan apparel is made under safe working conditions.  One of USC’s approved monitors, UL Responsible Sourcing, inspected both the Tazreen and Ali Enterprises factories in the months before they burned down.

Eighty students gathered in late November to mourn and to stand in solidarity with these workers, and over a hundred students heard the testimony of a survivor of the Tazreen factory fire in February.  Our entire campus community dreads the day that a tragedy like this occurs in a factory where USC apparel is produced.

How could UL Responsible Sourcing miss such flagrant violations of fundamental fire safety code?

The monitors that USC relies on are paid for by brands to inspect factories, creating a conflict of interest in which the more factories a monitor certifies, the more business they receive from brands. It is more than plausible that this leads them to be disinclined not to blow the whistle on the companies that pay their salaries. USC’s corporate monitoring system is clearly broken, and the lives of the countless workers whose safety was entrusted to UL Responsible Sourcing have been devastated.

SCALE has proposed a solution. The Worker Rights Consortium is an independently funded factory monitoring organization with a proven record of fixing violations and preventing abuse. One-hundred-eighty-one other universities across the country have worked with the WRC to protect garment workers, including all of the Ivy Leagues, every University of California campus and nearly every Pac-12 school.

Representatives of SCALE are meeting with President C. L. Max Nikias on March 13 to ask that he sign onto the WRC. As faculty, we fully support the efforts of these students and urge USC’s administration to consider its stake in upholding human rights as seriously as it considers the education of its students.

It is disconcerting that USC has not already taken this basic step to uphold workers’ rights in factories where Trojan apparel is produced. USC’s central mission is “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit,” and to fulfill this mission, USC must do its part to ensure the well-being of Trojan family members in factories around the globe.

Fight On for a sweatshop-free university!


David E. James

Professor, School of Cinematic Arts 

Phil Ethington

Professor, Dornsife College

Gene Cooper

Professor, Dornsife

Tara McPherson

Associate Professor, SCA

Laura Pulido

Professor, Dornsife

Howard A. Rodman

Professor, SCA

Amanda Pope

Professor, SCA

Don Bohlinger

Professor, SCA

Tom Abrams

Associate Professor, SCA

Mark Harris

Professor, SCA

Mary Sweeney

Associate Professor, SCA

Jeremy Kagan

Professor, SCA

David Howard

Professor, SCA

Priya Jaikumar

Associate Professor, SCA

Jack Epps

Professor, SCA

Joshua Goldstein

Associate Professor, SCA

Pamela Douglas

Professor, SCA

Thomas Gustafson

Associate Professor, Dornsife


5 replies
  1. Collin A.
    Collin A. says:

    It’s a shame that president Nikias founded our Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics. I was a student worker there and the home page literally says:

    “Helping students acquire values of moral discernment, love of truth and beauty, understanding of self, and respect for and appreciation of others.”

    It’s a terrible reputation to have.

  2. Johnny Tsunami
    Johnny Tsunami says:

    Interesting how all the professors who signed on were from the SCA and not Marshall or Viterbi. I think they lack a fundamental understanding of the global economy and the process by which developing nations become developed nations (Korea, Taiwan being superb examples). As we provide manufacturing jobs to countries like China and Vietnam, we help them on their process of development, and begin the process of them developing their middle class. These workers are significantly better off than they would have been otherwise jobless or as an agricultural laborer making significantly less money. Also, you can look at recent child labor and work quality reforms in China as a significant step in their process of development. Ultimately, SCA professors should stick to things like movie reviews, Oscars, etc. instead of trying to insert their opinions on international trade where they have no expertise. I’d be happy to hear the opinions of Marshall undergrad and MBA professors who actually would be qualified to give their two cents on these matters.

    • Chung Chan
      Chung Chan says:

      Johnny, I don’t think you should need an MBA to talk about ethical issues. This might be about jobs in developing countries and these jobs may affect the global economy, but that’s not the crux of their opinion here. Workers rights and economic development are not identical. So I don’t see it as a problem that SCA and Dornsife professors want to talk about ethical issues concerning other human beings.

      I also encourage you to see if you can talk to some people at Marshall and Viterbi and get their take on issues like this. It doesn’t have to be an agreeing opinion; dialogue is a wonderful thing and it people from those fields have a different view on this, that’s awesome.

      • Johnny Tsunami
        Johnny Tsunami says:

        Hi Chung,

        Thanks for the feedback. With regards to your comment on needing an MBA; the crux of what I was trying to say is that I feel very uncomfortable having a bunch of professors who spend the vast majority of their time studying film, production, screenwriting, etc. having any influence when it comes to international trade and finance. It would be like having the Oscars heavily influenced by a crew of investment bankers or the Star Wars screenplay written by accountants.

        And I completely agree with you and would certainly like to hear what the Marshall and Viterbi professors have to say, although I think their lack of being a signatory to this Letter speaks for itself.

        • Ryan D.
          Ryan D. says:

          Actually, Star Wars being written by accountants sounds compelling…

          “Sir, our Death Star asset has been significantly impaired by the rebels. Credit the asset account and debit an expense item and be sure to disclose it in the 10-K this fiscal year.”

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