A feature story by Colin Stack in today's edition of UC Irvine's student newspaper New University reveals that cotton sweatshirts with the familiar "U-C-I" capital letters across the chest have been effectively banned on campus since April 29.
The ban has nothing to do with student self loathing--or being able to come up with the $40-$50 each in these times of economic recession and soaring tuition--but is instead aimed at the maker of the sweatshirts, the Atlanta-based Russell Athletics brand. "[I]n February 2009, the company opted to close down one of its production factories in Honduras, 'Jerzees de Honduras,' citing losses due to the recent financial crisis," Stack writes. "The closing left 1,800 workers unemployed and occurred just one month after workers in the factory allegedly sought to unionize." The Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium were among several groups that launched investigations, with the latter group issuing a 36-page document that concluded the closing of the Honduran factory was in violation of labor laws, and that managers of the factory had regularly harassed its employees.
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Nearly 60 schools, including Harvard and Cornell University, voted to sever ties with Russell, and the 10-campus UC system, which includes UCI, is expected to follow suit officially later this month.The blog for former Weekly contributor Dan Tsang's Subversity program on the campus radio station KUCI credits United Students Against Sweatshops, Radical Student Union, Worker Student Alliance and Muslim Student Union for being among the student groups that are pressuring Chancellor Michael Drake and the UC Regents to formally terminate the school's agreement with Russell.
But that has effectively happened anyway. Since UCI's contract with Russell was up at the end of April, bookstore director Michael Smith went ahead and sent a letter informing the company UCI would not be renewing, citing the problems with the Honduras shop.
Smith tells the New U the bookstore had "a good business relationship with Russell for 25 years" and the company's products were of better quality than competing brands. However, he added the bookstore has "a very clear code of conduct established with the companies that we buy from. It demands that factory workers receive a living wage and fair treatment. We want to do the right thing."
The remaining Russell inventory is now being sold on clearance--sometimes with a free anti-Russell fliers tucked into the garment by a dissenter, a practice the bookstore has politely asked them to stop. Champion and Adidas apparel has replaced Russell's in the new product racks--at least until one or both of those companies get caught fucking with workers.