UW-Madison: Russell Athletic relationship will end

February 5, 2009 By John Lucas

The University of Wisconsin–Madison will end its business relationship with Russell Athletic at the expiration of its current licensing agreement in March.

Atlanta-based Russell makes UW–Madison-logoed fleece products under the license, which generated revenue of $39,514 for the university in 2007-08.

In late 2008, the university’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee (LLPC) recommended that the university end its relationship with the firm after questions arose over the decision to close one of the company’s factories, Jerzees de Honduras in Choloma, Honduras.

Human and workers’ rights groups have alleged that the closure took place as a result of union-organizing activity, and they cite additional claims that the factory management repeatedly sought to suppress freedoms of association there.

Russell has cited the global economic downtown for the closing, which left 1,800 workers unemployed.

UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin accepted the LLPC’s advice after considering the university’s own evaluation of the situation and detailed reports from independent monitoring organizations, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association.

“We are a university that wants to do the best for workers making products bearing our name,” says Dawn Crim, special assistant to the chancellor for community relations and liaison to the LLPC. “The company has not met our expectations.”

Crim says the university recognizes the impact of the recession on Russell’s business, and that economic factors played a role in the closing.

However, despite repeated attempts at clarification, uncertainty remains over the plant’s reaction to the unionizing activity, clouding the relationship between the company and the university.

UW-Madison also expressed concerns in 2007 over the circumstances of the closing of another Russell plant in Honduras, Jerzees de Choloma. Displaced workers from that facility were re-employed at Jerzees de Honduras.

As part of university standards, brands and suppliers are required to adhere to a code of conduct. The code addresses workers’ wages; working hours; overtime compensation; child labor; forced labor; health and safety; nondiscrimination; harassment or abuse; women’s rights; freedom of association; and full public disclosure of factory locations.

The code aims to ensure apparel is manufactured free of sweatshop-like conditions and is enforced by an independent monitor, the WRC.

As part of a national publicity tour, two union leaders from Jerzees de Honduras, Norma Estela Mejia Castellano and Moises Elisias a Bovado, will speak at UW–Madison at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, in B130 Van Vleck Hall, 480 Lincoln Drive.

As part of their visit, which is sponsored by the Student Labor Action Coalition, Student Progressive Dane, Working Class Student Union and AFSCME Local 171, among others, the workers will also attend a special session of the LLPC.

UW-Madison has been a national leader among colleges and universities working to curb sweatshop abuses in licensed-apparel manufacturing. The university has contracts allowing more than 500 companies to make products bearing the university’s name or logos. The products are made in approximately 3,300 factories in 47 countries worldwide.

For an archive of the university’s efforts, visit this site.