The UCSB chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, Chancellor Henry T. Yang, Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Marc Fisher and UCSB Bookstore director Mark Beisecker agreed in a meeting on Wednesday in room 5123 of Cheadle Hall to halt the Bookstore’s non-backpack apparel purchases from Jansport and discuss alternatives to Jansport backpacks in summer meetings.
USAS came to the meeting demanding the Bookstore licensees be signatories to the Accord on Fire Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding document that outlines factory safety standards for corporations. Because Jansport is owned by VF Corporation, whose practices in Bangladesh do not adhere to the accord, USAS demanded the Bookstore stop buying the company’s products. At the meeting, Yang also agreed to advocate for similar changes UC-wide by speaking with other chancellors.
USAS member and third-year global studies major Brandon Yadegari said he became concerned about the Bookstore licensing relationships after Rana Plaza, a factory in Bangladesh, collapsed in April of 2013, killing over 1,100 workers.
“Since Rana Plaza collapsed in April of 2013, it has been pretty disturbing to us to find out about the relationships and connections between manufacturers that sell clothes to our bookstore,” Yadegari said.
Yadegari said the Bookstore should not work with companies that have factories in Bangladesh such as VF, especially because collegiate apparel is a major source of its profit.
“In Bangladesh, where wages are the lowest in the world and factories are the most unsafe, it seemed apparent to us as a group to work to make sure our university does not do business with companies that … are unwilling to cooperate for safer standards for those workers or who are owned by a company that participates in such supply chain management,” Yadegari said.
According to Yadegari, while no products in the Bookstore are made in Bangladesh, profits from Jansport products go to VF, which is responsible for serious workers’ rights abuse overseas.
“VF, their parent company, who owns brands like Vans, North Face and Columbia, still maintains much of their production in Bangladesh, and maintain production that is secured through relationships with local, provincial governments in Bangladesh that have consistently suppressed unionization attempts through violence, in some cases killing,” Yadegari said.
Yang said he would rather work with other UC chancellors to affect system-wide change than act independently as a campus.
“Many issues are joined issues. If we work together, we have better results,” Yang said. “This is not an isolated issue like an I.V. issue. This is such a good opportunity for me to bring them all on board.”
Beisecker also said he advised against campus-level action to halt business with Jansport, because it may be politically unsound given other UC campuses also use the company.
“For me to pull the license from Jansport and for the other campuses to keep theirs, is a real mixed message,” Beisecker said.
According to Yadegari, multiple campus leadership entities unanimously voted to support a discontinuation of business with Jansport, meaning Yang should meet UCSB USAS’s demand rather than rely upon UC-wide alternatives.
“We’re coming in with right now, UCSB students, UCSB Associated Students, UCSB Academic Senate, UCSB Graduate Student Association, Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee, obviously USAS, obviously the 2,000 signatures that we got, want action at UCSB,” Yadegari said. “For Chancellor Yang to see our university and our climate and then have to ask other UCs, there is a little bit of a disconnect there.”
USAS member and first-year math major Kyle Butts said other university campuses have adopted the accord.
“The decision is not unprecedented,” Butts said. “There are campuses like NYU, Stanford, University of Michigan. There are over 40 universities that have acquired the accord, so we are not alone.”
Butts said because the UC Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees Steering Committee’s vastly supported resolution asking UC to adopt the Accord was rejected by UC President Janet Napolitano last summer in favor of allowing UC to do business with signatories of either the Accord or the much more lenient Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, USAS has little faith in the notion of UC-wide reform.
“We saw UC-wide support. Every campus was in support of trying to get the Accord to be passed, and we saw the recommendation that UC as a whole should require the Accord,” Butts said. “There was so much support for that, and then it seemed like President Napolitano on her own decision ignored the recommendation and said the Alliance or the Accord.”
According to Yadegari, the Alliance gives corporations more flexibility in determining their own safety standards, which discouraged many student and faculty activists who had campaigned for UC adoption of the much stricter Accord.
“The Office of the President handed down the decision that either the Accord or the Alliance would be required, essentially giving a lot of companies an easier way out of holding themselves accountable and responsible for the conditions that they perpetuate in Bangladesh,” Yadegari said. “I think that was really demoralizing for a lot of us.”
Yadegari said, given the shortfall of Napolitano’s decision, campus USASs need to take initiative.
“At this point, with UC-wide activism being forced into retreat after the president’s decision, USAS at UCSB has come back and said ‘our chancellor will listen to us, we want to work with him, we want to work with our administration,’” Yadegari said.
USAS member and third-year global studies major Dana Patterson said through campus-level adoption of the Accord, UCSB can lead the way for UC-wide change.
“Our focus has been on this and them being able to extend that to the other UCs, and that’s just our strategy as of right now,” Patterson said. “We’re the most active USAS campus, so we’re very much leading the way … We’re the strongest organization of the UCs working on this. We’re the most proactive group.”
According to Butts, UCSB’s independent adoption of the Accord could be the most effective step toward UC adoption.
“By UCSB leading the way and forcing strictly the accord … we could rejuvenate a lot of the activity campaigns toward the Accord,” Butts said. “If UCSB makes the first stride to require the Bangladesh Accord, that gives the committee more power for producing another resolution for Janet Napolitano.”
Yadegari said Yang needed to represent the student body by supporting the Bookstore’s adoption of the Accord rather than consider UC politics.
“We can make our own decisions. Every relevant governing body on campus has told you want they want you to do” Yadegari said. “We understand it’s hard for you to put your neck out on the line, but when every student is telling you to, you should.”
Eventually, Beisecker, Fisher and Yang agreed the Bookstore should initiate adoption of the Accord by stopping orders from Jansport for non-backpack apparel, but Fisher said backpack orders would have to continue until USAS presented a comparable alternative.
“We’re not driving the market, the market drives us,” Fisher said. “We have to find a product line that will replace the one we already have.”
Yang said while he will support a UCSB initiative, he still plans to talk to other chancellors to implement similar change on other campuses.
“I am willing to talk to them, I will be strategically talking to them,” Yang said. “You have more work to do to go to the other students and say ‘we met with our chancellor, have you met with yours?’”
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Thursday, June 4, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.