Press

D-300 students protest alleged factory abuse

Northwest Herald |  By Jane Huh | August, 30 2011 |  Share  | Source Article

CARPENTERSVILLE – A group of students at Dundee-Crown High School are taking aim at Sears Holdings Corp., demanding that the national retailer end its partnership with a garment factory in Jordan, where managers have been accused of sexual assault and other abuses.

The students of Youth Labor Committee are demanding that the Hoffman Estates-based corporation, as well as clothing catalog company Lands' End, which it bought in 2002, pull garment orders from Classic Fashion Apparel Ltd. in response to reports of human rights violations. The Jordanian clothing supplier's other clients include Walmart, Target, Hanes and Macy's.

The Youth Labor Committee's online petition recently was launched on the Change.org website. The group of about 30 students began the campaign nearly two years ago. In a joint news release with Change.org, the Youth Labor Committee seeks "Sears' corporate executives to meet with them and agree to increase transparency over where they source products from." Managers at the factory have been accused of "serially raping young female workers." In June, a manager was arrested after a 26-year-old Bangladeshi woman accused him of raping her, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"To hear about other women being brutally raped really hits home. What if it was me?" said 16-year-old Jenny Wolan, a senior at Dundee-Crown. "We're not trying to hurt the corporation at all. We're trying to help them and the women being brutally raped."

In December, students visited Sears headquarters to protest and meet with Sears representatives. The meeting did not last long outside in the parking lot. Since then, no meetings have taken place, said Bruce Taylor, a social studies teacher at Dundee-Crown High School, 1500 Kings Road in Carpentersville.

"They kept referring us to their global compliance guy like a broken record," Taylor said. " ... We want to work hand-in-hand together to fix this problem."

In an e-mailed statement, Sears spokeswoman Kimberly Freely said the company has been working with government officials and third party monitoring organizations to investigate the allegations in Jordan. She said the company will take appropriate action once the findings are evaluated.

"Our company is committed to conducting business with a high standard of ethics and in compliance with all applicable laws and expects our vendors to do the same, especially as it relates to human rights," Freely said.

Taylor organized a classroom teleconference with Noam Chomsky, a globally known philosopher who teaches at Massachusetts Institute Technology, in 2008. He's introduced students to other noted public figures, including Howard Zinn and Peter Singer to raise awareness about social policies.

Some of his students expressed interest in starting a grassroots campaign against corporate abuses and formed Youth Labor Committee, modeled after the National Labor Committee, now known as the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. They've garnered support and encouragement from public figures and organizations including Charles Kernaghan, institute director, Chomsky and national labor groups. Taylor said the students are developing critical and independent thought as they educate themselves about human rights and labor issues around the globe.

Nina Massion, a 16-year-old junior, said she joined Youth Labor Committee initially to be "more informed about what's going on." Since then, she's been talking about the abuse reports with her friends.

"Some of them will say, 'I've never heard of it.'" I feel like it's my time to tell them," Massion said.

Taylor said there has been no push back from District 300 administration, which is negotiating with Sears over the 23-year economic development area corporate tax incentive set to expire 2013. The district is eagerly waiting for the EDA status to expire so that it can begin to collect property taxes a year from Sears, located within the district's boundary.

Allison Strupeck, district spokeswoman, said the administration has no official position regarding the student protest.