WSU cuts clothing contract after push for sweatshop workers


Indonesian sweatshop workers march with students in front of the Lighty building, April 11, 2013.

LAURA GUIDO | Evergreen reporter

After nine months of campaigning, the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) at WSU have claimed a victory for their “End Deathtraps” campaign.

The goal of the “End Deathtraps” campaign is to pressure college-logo apparel brands to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord.

“When we started this campaign, many students did not know this kind of disaster happened and did not know how we students are connected to it, or the fact that we students have the power to stop it,” said WSU USAS President Selina Akter. “If we want, we can contribute so that these things can’t happen again.”

As of June 1, WSU suspended athletic clothing brands JanSport and Columbia for not signing the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh.

The national campaign was launched in the fall of 2013 in response to the worker safety crisis in the Bangladesh garment industry. According to the USAS website, 1,500 garment workers have been killed since 2012. 

The accord would require brands to “take responsibility for safety in their subcontracted factories in a meaningful way to transform the garment industry,” according to the national USAS website. 

The campaign specifically targets the VF Corporation, an apparel company. There is evidence of its mishandling of safety hazards in Bangladesh and its refusal to sign the accord.

WSU officially joined the campaign May 1 when it sent a letter to JanSport and Columbia, brands owned by VF, warning them their WSU Licensing Agreement would be suspended if they did not sign the accord by June 1.

WSU has become one of 13 universities that have cut ties with VF, according to the website for the campaign.

The USAS has waited for this action since September when they wrote their first letter to WSU President Elson S. Floyd, Akter said. They did not stop there.

In the fall they held a vigil for the victims of the collapse of a sweatshop in Bangladesh. After the vigil, the group delivered the second letter to Floyd, Akter said.

On Valentine’s Day, the group and other students sent candy grams to Floyd with messages stating their campaign’s goal, she said.

Akter said she is proud of WSU for taking a stand for workers’ rights and hopes other universities, such as University of Washington, will follow its example.

Rachael Beck, the vice president of USAS at WSU, said this action shows “true cougar spirit.”

The group wants to increase support for non-sweatshop brands and student education about workers’ rights, Beck said.

Both Beck and Akter said they also want to continue to pressure VF to sign the accord.