EDITORIAL: Justice in the bookstore

How would you feel if you learned that your Villanova hoodie, that staple of college casual wear, was manufactured by workers who toiled in poor conditions and lacked any power to change their situations?

Russell Athletics, the company that manufactures some of students’ favorite gear sold in the University Shop, faces allegations of firing workers who were attempting to remedy their poor working conditions. Russell has shut down one factory, Jerzees de Honduras, eliminating 1,800 jobs. Although the company refutes claims that it shut down the factory because the workers there were unionized, it has kept all of its non-union factories open.

Villanova has stopped submitting orders to Russell until the company follows the codes of compliance set by two organizations, the Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium. Villanova is a member of both of these organizations.

This decision is consistent with Villanova’s commitment to social justice and a step in the right direction. However, Villanova should not stop here. The University should terminate its entire contract with Russell and ensure that the other companies it does business with are sweat-free. Although Villanova doesn’t have the investigative resources on its own, it should lead within the FLA and WRC; these organizations pool the resourcces of many universities to advocate for fair labor standards at companies that make university apparel.

At this point, 18 universities, including Georgetown, Harvard and Penn State have ended their contracts with Russell because of the company’s workers’ rights abuses. These schools are also members of FLA and WRC. Recently, FLA proposed ways for Russell to improve its working conditions for employees, and Russell responded by assuring its university clientele that it will do so. However, after FLA and WRC urged further action, which Russell has not adopted, these universities broke their contracts with Russell.

As a member of these fair labor groups, Villanova should back the recommendations, not only in principle, but also in practice; they should actively terminate the contract with Russell. As a university committed to social justice, acting otherwise would contradict the mission we claim to promote. We sell fair trade coffee and tea products at Holy Grounds; we can certainly sell fair labor merchandise in the University Shop – even if that means having to pay a little more for the hoodies we love to wear.

This semester, Villanova celebrates the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a man committed to helping the poor and eliminating social injustice. While we celebrate his ideals and the movements they’ve generated, we must remember to do more than just admire Romero’s life work. We have to be proactive and put into practice the social justice ideals that Villanova espouses.

We can start, like so many other universities have, with the clothes that we put on our backs. Students, faculty and the Augustinian community should join together to advocate for fair labor conditions for the workers who produce our University merchandise.