Penn State has given clothing manufacturer JanSport a deadline to ensure Bangledeshi worker safety.
The company has 90 days to respond to a letter urging the company to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said via email.
Acknowledgement of the existence of this demand comes after the Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops delivered its own letter on Friday calling on the university to cut ties with JanSport, a subsidiary of the VF Corporation.
Sims said the letter to JanSport was sent by Penn State President Eric Barron and was dated Dec. 15, 2014. He said discussions between VF Corporation, JanSport and the university have occurred since the letter’s delivery.
“JanSport has argued that it is not subject to Penn State's expectation that licensees sign onto the Accord,” Sims said. “At the same time, JanSport is a subsidiary of VF Corporation.”
Sims said JanSport argues it is not subject to the terms of the Accord because its products are produced at domestic sites in Wisconsin. He added the counterargument, which JanSport is still subject to the Accord, could be made due to its relationship to VF Corporation.
VF Corporation has a “significant presence” in Bangladesh, Sims said.
“[The university’s] main defense for maintaining their relationship with JanSport is that JanSport does not produce apparel in Bangladesh,” Penn State USAS President Deanna Nagle said in a release from the organization. “By doing business with JanSport, Penn State is supporting VF Corporation, a known human rights abuser.”
Penn State ended its licensing agreement with VF Imagewear, which produces products under the Majestic brand, after VF Corporation failed to sign the Accord in March 2014, Nagle (junior-labor studies and employment relations) said.
In a letter dated Jan. 30, 2014, former Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the university urged all its licensees producing products in Bangladesh to sign the agreement. Erickson said in the letter a failure to sign the agreement would lead to termination or non-renewal of contracts.
Sims said Penn State has ended licensing agreements with all other VF brands. He said the decision to do so was a “fairly direct action” on the part of Penn State.
In October 2014, Cornell University severed its relationship with JanSport and VF because of the company’s failure to sign the Accord, according to a USAS release.
Cornell is one of 14 other universities to end licensing agreements with VF for failing to sign the Accord, along with New York University and Big Ten peer Rutgers University, according to the release.
Cornell President David Skorton wrote in a letter regarding the decision to terminate the licensing agreement with VF that it “behooves” VF to take a leadership role in improving worker safety in Bangladesh. He cited the size of the company and the influence it wields in Bangladesh as reasons for the importance of their role in such efforts.
Nagle said VF indicated it supports an alternate to the Accord. She said the alternate is not legally binding, does not require manufacturers to pay for safety upgrades to facilities and does not allow workers to be represented in decisions made as part of the agreement.
Sims said university administrators continue to monitor VF and JanSport’s response to the latest call by the university to sign the Accord. He added since the December letter was sent, Barron has been kept up to date on the situation.
“It’s been a year now since Penn State first asked them to sign,” Nagle said. “Cafeterias are collapsing and buildings are catching fire — people are still dying.”