Letter to UCI Chancellor Drake on Sweatshop-made Clothing

April 1, 2009


Dear Chancellor Drake,


We are writing to contact you about gross violations of our school’s code of conduct by
Russell Athletic, a university licensee. Radical Student Union and Worker Student Alliance
have learned that a unionized factory in Honduras called Jerzees de Honduras was closed
down as a result of Russell Athletic cutting and running from one of the few garment
factories in the world that is not an outright sweatshop. On top of this, worker leaders of the
Jerzees de Honduras union have received death threats, which they believe are linked to the
factory’s closure.


The Jerzees de Honduras factory is known for being one of two facilities that was the focus
of intense anti-sweatshop advocacy last year. In September 2007, the Worker Rights
Consortium (WRC) began investigations concerning Jerzees de Honduras and Jerzees
Choloma, two factories which were owned and operated by Russell Athletic to produce
collegiate apparel for universities. The WRC found that Russell Athletic responded to
workers’ organizing drives with an illegal union-busting campaign – firing 145 workers, all of
whom were founding members of the unions. Students quickly learned of Russell’s antiunion
activities, and immediately put pressure on the company to provide back pay and
offers of reinstatement to all of the 145 illegally fired workers. These workers went on
reestablish their unions and press for improved working conditions, representing
extraordinary progress in complying with the basic labor rights that are written in
universities’ codes of conduct. The Fair Labor Association, of which UCI is a member, has
also issued reports congruent with that of the WRC.


Unfortunately, this progress did not last long. Russell Athletic closed Jerzees Choloma in
March of this year, and have now also cut and run from their only other unionized factory in
the country, Jerzees de Honduras. And, of course, Russell is not closing any of its other nonunion
factories in Honduras! By cutting and running from one of the only factories in
Russell’s entire supply chain in which the right to freedom of association is actually
respected, Russell Athletic is showing not just a lack of commitment to the basic principles
that are supposedly protected by university codes of conduct, but also a complete disregard
for the lives of the workers. Given that this is not a unique case, and that Russell has a
history of cutting and running from factories in which workers attempt to exercise their
rights, we are left to wonder what Russell Athletic’s purported concern for workers’ rights
really means.


If universities allow Russell to go forward with this, it is fair to say that our codes of conduct
are essentially worthless to workers. Given all of these violations, and especially considering
the penalization of so many workers who have done nothing more than exercise a right that
is guaranteed in UC’s code of conduct, we feel that it is imperative that UCI and the UC
Regents engage Russell Athletic immediately on this issue.


Twenty-five major licensing schools – including Columbia University, Cornell University, all
of the Universities of Minnesota campuses, Harvard University, New York University,
University of Wisconsin, and most recently the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill –
have already cut their contracts with Russell, and many others are considering it.
Unfortunately, unless all of the University of California campuses, including UCI, follows the
example of these other universities by taking action against Russell today, our school will be
aiding and abetting the systematic exploitation of hundreds of Honduran workers. This is
not the time to engage with dialogue with Russell, as we already know – and 25 schools
have agreed with us – that Russell’s actions to date have demonstrated their total lack of
commitment towards workers and workers rights.


We, as UCI students, demand:

1. that the UCI Bookstore and all other UCI entities with direct business relationships
immediately sever all ties to Russell;

2. that Chancellor Drake communicate directly to UC President Yudof and the Board of
Regents the desire of UCI students and administrators to terminate the Russell
contract;

3. that Chancellor Drake communicate to the media his commitment to upholding
workers’ rights as guaranteed under American and Honduran labor law and
supported by the UN and ILO, especially freedom of association and living wages,
for all workers associated with UCI, both on campus and abroad;

4. and finally, that Chancellor Drake attend a panel organized by Radical Student
Union and Worker Student Alliance on April 17 (time and location TBA) featuring
several of the Jerzees de Honduras workers themseves, to hear first-hand accounts
of the conditions where UCI apparel is produced.


Because the UC schools–including UCB, UCLA, UCSB, UCSD, and UCI–hold one of the
largest clothing contracts with Russell, it is obligated to show the world that we stand for
workers’ rights in solidarity with the 21 other universities who have cut Russell, by
immediately terminating UC and UCI’s licensing relationship with this company. We, as
Radical Student Union and Worker Student Alliance, part of a state-wide coalition of UC and
CSU students, are committed to mobilizing students, faculty, and staff should the UC
Regents and UCI refuse to terminate its licensing relationship with Russell and demand a
response by April 10th at irvineradicalstudents@riseup.net.


Sincerely,

Radical Student Union

Worker Student Alliance

California United Students Against Sweatshops

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