As the bells of Old Main chimed, students, faculty and community members held a moment of silence for workers killed in a factory collapse in Bangladesh.
Penn State United Students against Sweatshops held a candlelight vigil on Monday at Old Main. The vigil was both an act of remembrance for factory workers killed in the Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 2013 in Bangladesh and part of a campaign by USAS for safer working conditions in factories, Shelby Mastovich, a member of USAS, said.
Jakir Hossain, the post-doctoral scholar at the Penn State Center for Global Workers’ Rights, said over 1100 workers, mostly women, died in the Rana Plaza building collapse. He added that other workers were injured in the collapse and would “never be able to work.”
About 30 people, including members of the Bangladesh Student Association, attended the vigil. Some participants held signs that read “Stand Up for Workers @ PSU” or the flag of Bangladesh.
Some attendees also wore buttons that read “I support the Sweatshop Solution.”
The vigil occurred during International Week of Action to End Death Traps, which is a national campaign to improve working conditions, according to the national USAS website.
The main goal of the End of Deathtraps Campaign is to ask universities to amend their codes of conduct so that licensees of collegiate apparel are required to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Mastovich (senior-sociology) said.
Once the university has changed the code of conduct, licensees of collegiate apparel made in Bangladesh are required to sign the accord, which makes brands legally liable for workers’ safety, within 14 days of being notified of the change, Mastovich said. She added that if brands do not sign the accord, then the university would suspend its contract until the brands signed on to the accord.
“People shouldn’t have to literally die to produce our Penn State apparel,” Mastovich said.
Participants gathered in a circle and held lit candles as various club members read testimonies from Bangladeshi workers injured in the Rana Plaza building collapse.
“We make clothes for foreigners with our sweat and blood,” according to one testimonial that was read.
Following the reading of testimonials, members of USAS then opened the floor so participants could share thoughts on the issues.
“It’s a big tragedy, but not a unique one. Things like this have happened before,” Nymul Khan (graduate-chemical engineer) said.
But the campaign for workers’ safety in Bangladesh is not the first campaign that USAS has lead.
As previously reported, USAS held a similar vigil in April 2013 to protest Penn State’s contract with Adidas and the company’s severance policy for workers in Indonesia.
In May 2013, Penn State reinstated its contract with Adidas after the company reached an agreement regarding the severance pay for subcontracted workers in Indonesia, as previously reported.
“Students have a lot of power to offer for social and economic justice,” Jill Jensen, a professor of labor studies and employment relations and the assistant director of the Center for Global Workers’ Rights, said.
Following the vigil, members of USAS will hold a meeting with the Penn State administration next week, Mastovich said.
She added that several groups across campus are forming a coalition to advocate for workers’ rights. The Panhellenic Council, Kappa Delta Rho and Amnesty International at Penn Stateare among several student organizations that have joined the coalition.