Progressive Student Network challenges University

Kyrie Hupka

Villanova University Athletics is taking measures to avoid supporting sweatshop labor by temporarily refusing to purchase products from Russell Athletics, a contractual supplier of University apparel.

Bob Steitz, senior associate athletics director for External Operations, said that Villanova Athletics will not buy from Russell until it is proven that they comply with all labor codes of ethics designated by the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium.

Despite these measures, some students think the buying freeze does not go far enough in fighting for labor rights.

Members of the Progressive Student Network are calling for the University to completely cut ties with Russell Athletics and sign onto a program called the Designated Supplier Program.

The Designated Supplier Program is “a system for protecting the rights of the workers who sew university logo apparel,” according to the Worker Rights Consortium Web site.

Under the Designated Suppliers Program, all university licenses are required to source university logo apparel from suppliers that are verified to be in compliance with what the Worker Rights Consortium calls “their obligation to respect the rights of their employees.”

The Designated Supplier Program is designed to be phased in over a three-year period.

Christina Bernardo, chair of the Progressive Student Network, presented the issue to the Mission and Social Justice Effectiveness Committee of the Villanova Senate on Feb. 19.

At the meeting, Bernard urged the University to “take urgent action to demonstrate support for the Designated Supplier Program by cutting contracts with Russell Athletics.”

According to Steitz, Villanova’s involvement with the Designated Supplier Program is still a long way off.

Although Steitz agrees that the Designated Supplier Program is based on principles that are in line with Villanova’s mission, Steitz said that Villanova should not sign onto the Designated Supplier Program at this time.

“The DSP is trying to move forward, but to say that the institution should just sign on at this point is tough,” Steitz said. “There are some real antitrust issues involved. How can you tell company X that they have to make their product in that factory only?”

According to Steitz, the Worker Rights Consortium withdrew its request that the United States Deptartment of Justice submit a favorable business review letter on behalf of the Designated Supplier Program because it became evident that a favorable business review could not be obtained based on antitrust issues.

“WRC is looking to the new administration for a different analysis,” Steitz said. “Even if they get a favorable business review letter, that’s one opinion. That doesn’t mean that that couldn’t be challenged.”

Despite Villanova Athletics’ skepticism of the Designated Supplier Program, the Progressive Student Network is going forward with its plan to promote the program at the University.

The group’s next steps include raising awareness by getting other student groups involved with the VU Sweat-Free Coalition and trying to get the Designated Supplier Program on the agenda for the University Senate’s Mar. 13 meeting.

“Members of the Progressive Student Network will be going around to various classrooms explaining DSP, Russell Athletics and how to get involved,” Bernardo said. “I think that, when you phrase it in a moral issue, it’s easy to agree to it because of Villanova’s strong moral code.”

Bernardo pointed out that Russell Athletics recently closed the Jerzees de Honduras factory in Honduras due to the workers attempt to unionize.

“If this factory is shut down permanently, it would be because the workers were fighting for the right to collectively organize which is protected under Honduran law and recognized by the international community as a basic right,” Bernardo said.

Frank Henninger, director of the Villanova University Shop, said that the reasoning for the factory’s closing is not entirely clear.

Henninger said that Villanova relies on the Collegiate Licensing Corporation to make sure its suppliers are in line with labor regulations designated by the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium.

“There’s no way that the bookstore can investigate individual companies and know what they’re doing, so we rely on the central organizations that Villanova is affiliated with, WRC and FLA, and since we’re a client of Collegiate Licensing Corporation, we have three bodies working on our behalf to help us know who we’re dealing with,” Henninger said.

According to Henninger, vendors licensed by the Collegiate Licensing Corporation are required to submit their codes of ethics and be willing to submit to inspections of their plants.

“CLC verifies that and then Villanova makes the final decision on what brands we’re going to license for Villanova products, and those products are sold all over the world.” Henninger said.

While Villanova has no plans to join the Designated Supplier Program or cut its contract with Russell Athletics, Steitz said that Villanova Athletics is open to considering a relationship with Knights of Apparel.

CEO of Knights Apparel Joe Bozich is working to start a factory where he can guarantee that all apparel produced in that factory is made by employees who receive a living wage and have a right to associate.

The factory would be publicly verified to meet all international labor codes.

“It’s not a comprehensive movement by any means, but it’s certainly a unique and unprecedented step in labor rights,” Steitz said. “It’s definitely something that Villanova would consider participating in if we are approached by Knights.”