Penn State will require any company that sells clothing made in Bangladesh under a Penn State license to sign an “Accord on Fire and Building Safety” to help ensure worker safety, starting March 31.
Penn State made the decision after months of discussions with Penn State United Students Against Sweatshops that were concerned with safety hazards affecting workers in Bangladesh over the past year, according to a press release issued by Penn State News.
Anna Leah Kincaid, president of the group, said the accord is a legally binding contract between company signatories and the worker representatives.
“It involves inspection programs, building renovations and now brands have to stay with their factories for two years,” Kincaid (senior-classics and ancient Mediterranean studies and anthropology) said. “It is designed to prevent fires and building collapses.”
Kincaid said Penn State is the sixth university in the United States and the first Big Ten school to require its apparel brands to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord.
“This shows Penn State is taking leadership,” she said. “It’s allowing these workers to have better working conditions and we should be able to know that the Penn State clothing we wear every day is ethically made.”
Kincaid said she and other members of the student organization met with Penn State’s administration last semester to discuss information on the safety of the workers and the possibility of an accord.
Damon Sims , vice president for Student Affairs, said via email that he also met with the student organization to discuss the recommendation of the accord last fall.
“The goal of the accord is simply to create enforceable means for substantially improving fire and building safety in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing sites,” Sims said. “Given the horrific history of workplace accidents and fires in Bangladesh, the accord is a meaningful attempt to right a longstanding wrong.”
Sims said the university is sending letters to all Penn State apparel licensees, and failure to sign the accord by March 31 will result in termination or non-renewal of the license agreement.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson wrote in a letter to Penn State apparel licensees that the university has been working with labor rights affiliates to understand how the school can help to improve conditions for workers in countries that represent “such a large percentage of the world’s apparel manufacturing.”
“Having communicated previously with those licensees who source products in Bangladesh about programs such as the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety” in Bangladesh, we are convinced that collegiate suppliers can achieve improvements in worker safety in that country,” he said in the letter.
Alyssa Reddington can be reached at email@example.com or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @alyssaredd.