The University of Wisconsin announced Thursday it will not continue its business practices with apparel producer Russell Athletic after their current licensing agreement expires in March.
The UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee recommended in December the university drop its relationship with the company after questions arose surrounding labor practices at the company’s Choloma, Honduras factory.
“We as a university and many other organizations were concerned that freedom of association issues played a part [in the closure],” said special assistant to the Chancellor for Community Relations Dawn Crim. “When we have a relationship with our licensees, we have expectations that we will be able to work together and work through issues like these. We still have yet to do that.”
While Russell said the plant closed due to economic troubles, Crim said negotiations between factory management and a union was underway at the time of closure, casting uncertainty over the reasons behind the shut down.
Brands and suppliers participating in business with UW are required to agree to a code of conduct that includes provisions for freedom of association, which is meant to protect worker rights, such as belonging to a union.
The Student Labor Action Committee, a UW organization, released a statement of support after the university announced its decision.
“This is the only way we have of sending a message to these companies that we don’t approve of the ways they are treating their workers,” SLAC member and UW senior Jan Van Tol said. “If people were being treated poorly on our campus, I’m sure there would be a big outcry. This is no different because these workers are connected to our university.”
Van Tol added the next step for UW is to enforce the Designated Suppliers Program, which would require suppliers to prove they meet a code of conduct before they enter into a relationship with the university.
Russell currently produces UW logo fleece apparel for the university. Crim said it first caused controversy when it closed another Choloma factory in 2007.