UW Ends Russell Athletic Apparel Contract
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The University of Wisconsin-Madison said Thursday it will cut ties with Russell Athletic over questions about its labor practices at a recently closed plant in Honduras.
Chancellor Biddy Martin said she accepted a recommendation from a committee to not renew its licensing agreement with the Atlanta-based company when it expires in March.
The company makes fleece products, including sweatshirts, bearing the university's logo under the license. The deal generated nearly $40,000 in revenue for the university in the most recent fiscal year.
The move is the latest attempt to improve labor practices by companies that make Badgers apparel. The university, a leader in the anti-sweatshop movement, last year cut ties with New Era Cap Co. over allegations of discrimination and anti-union activity at one of its factories.
The school's Labor Licensing Policy Committee recommended ending its relationship with Russell in December after human rights groups alleged the company closed a Honduras factory to retaliate against workers who were organizing a union. The groups also claimed management suppressed freedoms of association there.
The company blamed declining demand for its apparel because of the global economic downturn for the closing, which eliminated jobs for 1,800 workers. Russell Athletic said it regrets the university's decision and denied the anti-union allegations.
Russell said it closed seven plants in the last year due to declining demand and all but one were nonunion.
Dawn Crim, an aide to Martin who is her liaison to the labor committee, said the school recognizes that economic factors played a role in the closing. But she said the university was not happy with the company's failure to explain how union activity was handled despite repeated attempts to clarify.
"We are a university that wants to do the best for workers making products bearing our name," Crim said. "The company has not met our expectations."
The university had also expressed concern in 2007 over the circumstances surrounding the closing of another Russell plant in Honduras.
Martin made her decision after considering the university's assessment and reports from two independent labor monitoring organizations, the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association.
The university requires the 500 companies that have licensees to make products bearing its name or logos to adhere to a code of conduct to ensure apparel is not made in sweatshop-like conditions. The school says the products are made in about 3,300 factories in 47 countries.
The university earned a record $2.8 million in royalties from the sales in the budget year that ended June 30. The money supports need-based financial aid for students and other school expenses.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)