UW-Madison initiates new effort on Bangladesh worker safety

March 14, 2014

by John Lucas

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will require all of its licensees that source, produce or purchase goods in Bangladesh to sign and comply with the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh for the production of UW goods.

UW-Madison and its Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee (LCLCC) has been focused on worker safety in the country since the Rana Plaza building collapse, which took the lives of more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers last April.

Although no UW-Madison goods were produced at Rana Plaza, the university has been monitoring the situation, according to Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

Photo: Rebecca Blank

Rebecca Blank

“As a national leader in promoting better working conditions for those who make our licensed collegiate merchandise, we believe that our licensees sourcing in Bangladesh have an obligation to help improve the safety standards for workers there,” Blank says.  

The accord is an agreement designed to make garment factories in Bangladesh safer workplaces. It includes independent safety inspections at factories and public reporting of the results of these inspections.

Under the plan, retailers commit to ensuring that repairs are carried out where safety issues are identified, that sufficient funds are made available to do so, and that workers at these factories continue to be paid a salary. A legally binding agreement, it has been signed by more than 150 apparel corporations from 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

The university currently has contracts allowing 447 companies to make products bearing the university’s name or logos. Of the 21 UW licensees active in Bangladesh, seven of these have signed the accord. They are adidas, Cutter & Buck, Knights Apparel, New Agenda, Russell Brands, Top of the World and Zephyr Graf-X.

“We believe that our licensees sourcing in Bangladesh have an obligation to help improve the safety standards for workers there.”

Rebecca Blank

All companies that disclosed sourcing, producing or purchasing any apparel from Bangladesh as of Jan. 1, 2013 under a UW-Madison license will be required to sign onto the accord by July 30, 2014.

UW-Madison is a longtime leader among colleges and universities working to curb abuses in licensed apparel manufacturing.

To sell a hat, sweatshirt, jersey or any item bearing the likeness of Bucky Badger, a Motion W or University of Wisconsin logo, UW requires its licensees to agree to a code of conduct maintained by the Collegiate Licensing Company and monitored by an outside group, the Worker Rights Consortium.

The code addresses workers’ wages, working hours, overtime compensation, child labor, forced labor, health and safety, nondiscrimination, harassment or abuse, women’s rights, freedom of association, and full public disclosure of factory locations.

Product sales bring in $3,300,000 to the university, which puts UW among the top 20 colleges and universities in product revenue generation. These proceeds go toward financial aid for scholarships and to the Athletic Department.