Forstater: Students should be ethical consumers

Temple should terminate its relationship with JanSport due to ethical concerns surrounding working conditions.

Toby Forstater

Toby ForstaterRichard Rumer, associate vice president of Business Services, said he has a tough job. He said he thinks people like junior political science major Brett Wise from Temple’s Coalition of Students Against Sweatshops are making it even more difficult.

However, Rumer’s claim that Wise is making his job difficult is rather ironic. Those directly affected by his administrative actions have some of the world’s worst working conditions. Rumer’s complaints about a tough job don’t seem valid, considering his generous salary, office and vacation time compared to those overseas.

Rumer reviews university logo licensing so companies like JanSport, Adidas and Russell Athletics can use the Temple “T.” But by approving these companies, Temple perpetuates indentured servitude in sweatshops and poor working environments.

This is essentially present-day slavery.

“Unless [companies] change via their own action, we as a university must do something,” Wise said. “This is a time-sensitive issue and the longer we wait, the worse off the people will be and the higher the chances of another catastrophe.”

April 24 marked the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. The major textile factory collapsed, killing 1,127 people. Major structural problems were noted, but ignored.

The textile factory produced for companies like Vanity Fair and others. Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine where many segments of textiles are made, which Wise pointed out is no accident.

If this isn’t reason enough to demand administration to source more ethically, several weeks later, a factory fire killed seven more workers. It was just miles from the Rana Plaza location.

Students Against Sweatshops is lobbying the administration, including Rumer, to drop the JanSport licensing agreements. It is a subsidiary of Vanity Fair, which engages in unethical treatment of human workers.

“JanSport doesn’t manufacture in Bangladesh,” Rumer said. “Vanity Fair is doing business in Bangladesh, and JanSport [is] their subsidiary.”

Rumer denied that the parent and daughter organizations work closely in coalition. However, Wise said, both are headquartered together, and searching online for JanSport’s code of conduct links to the Vanity Fair website.

“The university is a member of the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association,” Rumer said. “We are not aware of any universities across the nation that [have] stopped doing business with JanSport because of their relationship with Vanity Fair.”

Though administration hasn’t decided to drop licensing agreements with JanSport, students can still apply pressure. Students Against Sweatshops noted that Emerson College became the first school to end its relationship with JanSport last month.

“It’s almost like the system is set up to keep people in poverty,” said senior rhetoric and public advocacy major Justin Gorman. “Any hiccup and it could ruin you.”

“Third-world labor is not going to go away overnight,” said senior rhetoric and public advocacy major Justin Nepenthe. “It could be an engine for people to feed themselves and move up the ladder economically. But the way we are using it right now, it’s so unregulated that there isn’t any real good answer to do it properly.”

Nepenthe and Gorman are students working on their capstone course research on ethical consumption. They presented their research in front of concerned students at Temple’s Office of Sustainability.

In response to ethical issues surrounding Vanity Fair, Nepenthe said he felt Temple should pressure the company to improve ethics instead of ending ties, but Wise said he hopes to encourage positive change as well. He said when a number of colleges cut ties with Adidas, the company improved worker conditions.

Last fall, Temple required the licensed logo-bearing brands produced in Bangladesh to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. More than 150 brands, organizations and several nations like Germany signed onto the Accord.

However, in response to the Bangladesh Accord, JanSport’s owner Vanity Fair, as well as Wal-Mart and Gap Inc., created the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. In contrast to the Accord, independent inspection or public reports are not required, Wise said.

We cannot just blame the manufacturers for deceiving us. We are partly responsible as well. As ethical consumers, we have choices and must voice our opinions to administration to do the right thing.

Toby Forstater can be reached at 

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