Student Funding

Penn State University stands behind workers' safety in Bangladesh

On February 3, Penn State administrators set forth a requirement that, effective March 31, 2014, any company producing Penn State logo goods in Bangladesh must sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to help ensure safe working conditions. Failure to sign the Accord by March 31 will lead to “termination or non-renewal of the license agreement.” See the article, “University makes Bangladesh worker safety condition for apparel license renewal.”

Student research

For a paper by CGWR Graduate Student Assistant Joyce Sinakhone on the problems associated with J1 guestworkers in the United States.

For a paper by former CGWR Undergraduate Student Assistant Shelby Mastovich on the empowerment of Honduran workers through United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) action.

USAS Fall 2013 Campaign
By Shelby Mastovich

Shelby Mastovich is a recent Penn State graduate who conducted research with the Center for Global Workers’ and served as a leader in the Penn State chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops.

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student-led democratic organization that influences universities to uphold workers’ rights standards. 
Last year, Penn State USAS successfully pressed the university administration to suspend its contract with the brand Adidas due to workers’ rights violations involving the brand’s refusal to pay $1.8 million in legally-mandated severance pay to workers of the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia, which closed unexpectedly. Penn State action in this regard created a domino effect for other schools, with 18 in total severing ties with Adidas. With economic pressure from these decisions, for the first time in history Adidas actually negotiated with the workers’ union in one of its supplier factories over severance pay.

Yet literally the day after USAS’s success in the PT Kizone case, the most catastrophic event in the history of the global garment industry occurred at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. This poorly constructed and over-burdened garment factory collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers and critically injuring thousands more. This horrific incident, along with many others such as the Tazreen factory fire which occurred months earlier in the same country, could have been prevented if brands were held accountable for conditions throughout their supply chains, including accountability for workers’ safety.

After the Rana Plaza tragedy, labor rights advocates throughout the international community came together to forge the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It represents a historic, legally-binding agreement that holds brands liable for the safety of workers in Bangladesh. It also stipulated the right of workers to form a union and collectively bargain. Over 80 brands and retailers have signed onto this agreement thus far, but unfortunately, they are almost solely European based companies. An overwhelming majority of companies in the United States have not only publicly denounced the Accord, but have formulated a “fake safety plan” alternative of their own that is completely unilateral and without any legally-binding attributes.

With these events in mind, USAS has placed support for the accord central to its fall 2013 campaign. Over this past summer, USAS held protests against the Wal-Mart and the Gap, two of the leading companies spearheading the alternative safety plan initiative. USAS members, now back at their universities for the fall term, have mounted an End Deathtraps Campaign that targets action at the university level in support of the Accord. Penn State USAS is taking part and asking the university’s administration to make crucial additions to its code of conduct. These will require Penn State licensees that manufacture collegiate apparel in Bangladesh to sign onto the Accord within fourteen days of the addition to the code. If any of those brands refuse to do so, Penn State will cut appropriate contracts until they do sign.

With this campaign, USAS continues to build on its Workers’ Rights Coalition initiated last year. Any local student or community organization that commits to this coalition states that its members support Penn State’s action standing up for workers’ rights and the broader USAS campaign. We as Penn State USAS members continue to deliver letters to President Erickson outlining our request. We are also organizing events to raise awareness of this campaign on campus, including a Candlelight Vigil to End Deathtraps, which takes place October 21st at 7:00 p.m. outside of Old Main. We hope that the administration chooses to make crucial changes to its code of conduct as soon as possible, as workers’ lives are on the line.

Fall 2013 - Spring 2014 “Alta Gracia” internship sponsored by the CGWR

Alta Gracia produces Union-Made Living-Wage Apparel for Penn State and other Universities.

Ronnie Mixon

This year’s Alta Gracia intern, Ronnie Mixon, is originally from a small town in South Carolina. Currently, he is s junior with a major in Labor Studies and Employment Relations with double minors in Psychology and Dispute Management and Resolution. Before joining United Students Against Sweatshops he was part of the Multicultural Business Society where he held the Corporate Chair position. In the fall of 2012 he joined United Students Against Sweatshops and this past summer he participated in the Solidarity Immersion trip to the Dominican Republic, with funding from the CGWR.

Spring 2013, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) activism results in a labor settlement for Indonesian workers

March 2013: Penn State University suspended its licensing contract with Adidas over workers' rights violations just five weeks before the company and the Indonesia Coordinating Committee of PT Kizone Workers and their union, DPC SPTSK-SPSI, announced an agreement over a long standing labor dispute. After a sustained campaign organized by a coalition of unions and NGOs, including workers of PT Kizone, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), Adidas finally agreed to resolve the dispute.

Thanks to the efforts of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) on campus, Penn State cut its licensing contract with Adidas last March. The decision to do so was based on Adidas' failure to take responsibility after the closure of an Indonesian clothing factory, owned by one of its suppliers, PT Kizone, and the subsequent failure of this subcontractor to pay severance to laid-off workers under Indonesian law.

On April 24, 2013, Adidas finally announced it would contribute aid for the former workers.

USAS

Penn State President Rodney Erickson had informed Adidas of the Penn State decision in a March 13th letter to Bob Leuenberger, of Adidas Team Sport.

Erickson wrote, “It is obvious to us that there are profound limits to our University’s influence over the substantial and complex issues created by the current supply chain model for the global manufacture of apparel.  Even so, we are determined to do our share to redress shortcomings where we find them and encourage our licensees to behave responsibly and justly vis-a-vis the workers who produce their products in our name.”

United Students Against Sweatshops

For details on the Penn State case, read the Daily Collegian online opinion piece by Professor Mark Anner, Director of the Center for Global Workers' Rights: Penn State should suspend its contract with Adidas in support of workers' rights.

See, also, the article written by Penn State USAS activist Shelby Mastovich, Penn State Becomes 8th to Cut Ties with Adidas.

Student Research Funding

The Center for Global Workers' Rights has a small amount of funds available to support student research on topics related to workers' rights. To inquire how the PGWR might be able to contribute to your research, please contact us at: 

Student Travel

By Shelby Mastovich

During the winter break of 2012-2013, Penn State students Shelby Mastovich and Jessica Valverde attended the Solidarity Immersion Program in the Dominican Republic. Funding for the trip was provided by the Center for Globlal Workers’ Rights as part of its efforts to raise student awareness of workers’ rights through direct experience. Last year the Center funded Penn State student, Anna Brewer, to participate in the program. The purpose of the program is to bring students and workers together in solidarity to create positive change for workers’ rights.

Solidarity Immersion Program in the Dominican Republic Through the January 2013 program, Shelby and Jessica joined other university studends from across the country to visit with members of various unions currently striving to ensure better working conditions.  In particular, the students spent a lot of time learning about the experiences, and successes, of the union representing workers in the Alta Gracia factory in Villa Alta Gracia, a municipality of the San Cristóbal province in the Dominican Republic. Alta Gracia is an amazing new initiative in the collegiate apparel industry that now pays a living wage due to a collaboration of activists— including students partnering with  the workers themselves standing up for their rights. This factory, once a sweatshop like others in the region, now has a thriving union which helps to ensure a safe and respectable working environment. Visiting students were able to tour the Alta Gracia factory during its operational hours. Those taking part in the trip could thus see first-hand the incredible effects of providing workers with a living-wage and respecting their rights, influencing an entire community. 
It is important to note, the program highlighted the fact that respecting workers’ rights has an extraordinarily positive impact on so many levels. Students heard personal accounts, which made the experience even more real, as workers described poor conditions and abuses and emphasized the influence of these on human existence when workers’ rights are violated. Sadly, among many in the Dominican Republic not working at the Alta Gracia factory, these workers recounted their stories on how they were currently being exploited and abused by employers and those in authority positions. It is an incredible realization to understand that while so many of us are privileged, and  able to receive a quality education, others at the same time are having difficulties accessing even basic necessities, such as food, clean water, and shelter.

Alta Gracia Dominican Republic

It is necessary for people to be educated and actually aware of what systems are in place, systems that currently allow many people to be exploited day in and day out in terms of their labor. Still, the most crucial part of the program remained the workshop section in which students participated to gain better skills for organizing for workers’ rights. Due to the Solidarity Immersion Program, new United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) chapters are sprouting up around the country.  In addition, even more effective campaigns are taking place in existing chapters, such as the one here at the Pennsylvania State University. The program itself offers an incredible experience for the students, the workers, and for the labor rights movement in general.

Spring 2013 “Alta Gracia” internship sponsored by the CGWR

Lili Hadsell

The Alta Gracia intern for the Fall Semester 2012 and the Spring Semester 2013, Lili Hadsell, is a Women’s Studies and English Major with a minor in Media studies. She has been an activist in United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) since 2011 and is currently the Penn State University chapter’s leader. She is also the secretary for the Women’s Studies Honors Society, TRIOTA. Lili serves on the Commission for Women and is also a Worker Rights Consortium Board Representative.

Lili Hadsell

2013 Co-Sponsored Event with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)

Aslam Hidayat and Heni, two Indonesian union leaders and former workers at an Adidas owned collegiate factory, Pt Kizone, visited Penn State campus on February 12, 2013 and spoke about their experiences.

Over a year ago, Adidas closed Pt. Kizone, a collegiate apparel factory in Indonesia, and left 2,800 workers jobless, owing them $1.8 million dollars in legally mandated severance. Adidas has refused to pay the workers, instead offering them only food vouchers that are worth a fraction of the money owed to them.

Aslam and Heni described to Penn State students the hardship their families have faced since the factory closing and the challenges of simply providing for the necessities of life. These former Adidas workers, activists in their own right, are touring the country to tell their stories. The refusal of Adidas to honor their legal responsibility in this case is a blatant violation of both workers’ rights and basic human rights.

Aslam and Heni and Penn State supporters

Aslam Hidayat and Heni, visiting from Indonesia (center), and their PSU supporters

The event was organized by Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and co-sponsored by the Center for Global Workers' Rights.

For more details on the story, click here to visit the USAS website: Pt. Kizone USAS

2011-2012 Student funding recipients

Anna Brewer

Anna Brewer was a senior at Penn State in the College of Arts and Architecture when she worked with the Project for Global Workers' Rights. Since her senior year of high school, she has been an active member of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). In addition to running local campaigns against the Russell and Nike companies, she has served twice as International Solidarity Committee Representative for USAS National and student representative on the board of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a human rights watchdog. Over winter break the Project for Global Workers' Rights made it possible for Anna to co-facilitate a delegation of 22 students from 18 universities to go to a factory in the Dominican Republic called Alta Gracia. Today, Alta Gracia is one of the only existing living-wage, union run apparel factories in the world.

Alta Gracia Factory

Alta Gracia’s history goes back 15 years, when the factory was originally called BJ&B. Since 1999, USAS and the WRC have played pivotal roles in working side-by-side with workers on the ground to end sweatshop labor.  The do so also to allow for democratically elected unions in factories. On the delegation, students had the opportunity to stay with workers in their homes, visit the factory, and meet with other apparel unions from around the Dominican Republic who make up the larger union federation, FEDOTRAZONAS. Having the opportunity to speak personally with workers and see first-hand how the union has changed their lives, students return to their universities and demand that bookstores support Alta Gracia by increasing their orders to the factory. While labor monitors continue to find big brands like Nike guilty of undermining workers’ rights globally, it is only right to stop giving preferential treatment to these big brands and offer instead robust support for Alta Gracia. After college Anna plans to continue organizing with the labor movement, whether in central America or the United States.  


 

Justin Ogden

Justin Ogden completed a Master's Degree in Human Resources and Employment Relations at Penn State in the spring of 2012. His academic interests relate to worker rights in developing countries, globalization, and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). He spent six years in Northern China as a child, where his family lived and worked. His connection in that country led to a summer-long internship in the CSR department of a large Southern Chinese shoe factory in 2009.

Justin Ogden and coworkers in China

 The experience in the Chinese shoe factory led Justin toward an internship with Alta Gracia, the only collegiate apparel company that pays factory workers overseas a living wage (among many other innovative approaches to doing business).  He is currently working on the PSU campus with university officials, bookstore staff, and students to build a coalition of consumers who demand the university embrace Alta Gracia as the responsible apparel choice.

 Justin’s  Master's thesis brought together many of his passions. During the Spring 2012 term, he is conducting research on the effects of expressed moral concern on apparel choice, looking specifically on consumers of Penn State apparel. With this project he is collecting date on the purchase, or lack thereof, of Alta Gracia products.  He is investigating the gap between stated ethical concern and actual purchasing behavior, trying to ascertain the reasons consumers decide not to purchase apparel guaranteed to avoid sweatshop conditions in its manufacture.


Spring 2013 Alta Gracia Internship

Alta Gracia logo

Alta Gracia Union-Made Living-Wage Apparel 
Seeks Community Organizer/Community Education Lead

  • Flexible start date, to be arranged.
  • Flexible hours (average is 5 – 15 per week), flexible work schedule.
  • Credit and limited compensation opportunities can be arranged. A basic stipend is offered. Free travel opportunities exist.
  • The internship will take place on your campus in your community, with meetings with workers at Alta Gracia, fellow students across the country using GoToMeeting, Skype, and phone calls.
  • Gain valuable insight into the history of the anti-sweatshop movement and build crucial community organizing skills!
  • Help us build a nation-wide network for social justice for workers in the garment industry!

For more information please download full internship description

Education Opportunity

The Center for Global Workers' Rights will fund the participation of one student in Cornell University's summer session course,

ILRCB 4080, Strategic Corporate Research. This course is designed to provide a comprehensive introduction to the nature and structure of corporate ownership, finance, and power in today's economy.

For more information on the course itself, click here: ILRCB 4080

See below for PGWR contact information if you are interested in attending.