About 50 University of Wisconsin students and members of the Madison community gathered on Library Mall Thursday to protest UW’s apparel contract with Jansport before being arrested for trespassing in Bascom Hall.
Bascom Hall closed at 6 p.m. and University of Wisconsin Police Department officers arrested the nine students for trespassing after the building closed, but released them on the scene.
Jansport is a subsidiary of VF Corporation, a garment retailer that has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is a binding agreement to build safer working environments for Bangladeshi workers. It was drafted after more than 1,100 workers died when a garment factory collapsed.
Explainer: What students should know about debate surrounding UW’s JanSport contractWith the Student Labor Action Coalition along with the Associated Students of Madison again voicing demands that University of Wisconsin Read…
The group heard speeches from labor activists on Library Mall before marching up Bascom Hill and entering Bascom Hall with chants of “When we fight, we win” and “No change, no peace.”
Nine students remained in Bascom Hall by Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s office to stage the sit in.
SLAC and Blank have discussed Jansport before, meeting in March 2014. SLAC staged a sit in last year to increase pressure on Blank after talks failed to produce the outcome they desired, Luke Gangler, Student Labor Action Committee member, said.
“We’ve tried to go through all the official channels, and Chancellor Blank does not want to hear us,” Gangler said. “We want to increase pressure from the outside.”
In a statement, Joel Rogers, a UW law professor, and Erik Olin Wright, a UW sociology professor, said they were proud of the students demonstrating.
Rogers and Wright said protesters had tried conventional methods in the past, persuading the Labor Codes and Licensing Compliance Committee, the Associated Students of Madison, along with other student organizations. They said the students had not acted out of line.
Blank said in a letter to SLAC that UW does not need to cut ties with JanSport because it does not have any direct connections with Bangladesh.
Blank has followed other large universities in cutting contracts with licensees who have not signed the Accord, according to her blog, Blank’s Slate. The university has already cut its contracts with other VF subsidiaries, but still maintains a contract with Jansport, according to the blog.
“Since JanSport does not produce, source or purchase in Bangladesh I do not believe the company should be asked to comply with a regulation that simply does not apply to it,” Blank said on her blog.
The protest was intended to increase pressure on Blank to cut Jansport, a company which SLAC believes supports unfair labour practices, Gangler said.
“Today made it clear that Chancellor Blank would rather have students arrested than hold an open dialogue, or hold VF responsible,” he said.
Jansport does not produce UW apparel in Bangladesh but subsidiary profits from Jansport could still go to VF Corporation.
SLAC does not see a distinction between the grouped corporations, Gangler said.
“Through the lens of human rights, Jansport and VF are the same thing,” Gangler said.
Jansport should not be punished in this case, Blank said on her blog, citing legalities in their contract agreement, as well as the fact that Jansport does not actually employ anyone in Bangladesh.
The factory UW purchases clothing from is located in Appleton, Wisconsin, which Blank said creates jobs for Wisconsin.
“UW works directly with licensees and does not hold subsidiaries responsible for their parent companies,” Blank said.