USC Deal With Dallas Cowboys Supports Sweatshop Labor

Neon Tommy |  By Cara Palmer | December, 04 2011 |  Share  | Source Article

Read part one of the series, "USC Declines To Affiliate With Sweatshop Monitoring Organization," here.

Many colleges and universities sell clothing made by companies linked to factories that use sweatshop labor. Rather than working toward a future in which sweatshop labor is condemned, and in which universities refuse to buy products made by sweatshops, many universities continue to sign deals with companies that cannot guarantee the sweatshop-free status of their factories.

The University of Southern California (USC), sometime before May, signed a largely secret deal with the Dallas Cowboys for a ten-year exclusive licensing deal for the Cowboys' apparel line, Silver Star Merchandising.

The New York Times reports:

"At the University of Southern California, students returning to campus this fall are voicing outrage that their school signed an ambitious 10-year licensing deal with the Cowboys last May while keeping the negotiations secret from the students."

Matt Curran, Director of Trademark Licensing and Social Responsibility at USC, stated:

"The decision to enter into a license agreement with SSM, in accordance with standard university business protocols, was entered into only after careful consideration and months of research and discussion among various university departments. Although students were not directly consulted in this case, we are always mindful of student concerns in our business practices."

The Cowboys have "exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute USC-branded apparel," according to United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).

USAS, an organization founded in 1997, is composed of students throughout the country "who believe that a powerful and dynamic labor movement will ensure greater justice for all people" and work to ensure the rights of laborers, "particularly campus workers and garment workers who make collegiate licensed apparel." USAS, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), and USC's Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) are all in opposition to the Dallas Cowboys' deals with universities in the United States, and for very good reason.

According to several reports surfacing from the WRC and USAS, one of the Cowboys' suppliers in Indonesia, PT Kizone, "withheld wages owed to 2,800 workers," the Cowboys lied about sourcing from that particular factory, and have now "failed to take any responsibility, leaving $1.8 million still owed to the workers." At a different Indonesian factory, now closed, the owners suddenly fled "without paying $3 million in legally required severance pay owed to its...employees."

Also, as reported by the Global Institute for Labour and Human Rights, the Cowboys sourced some clothing from Ocean Sky factory in El Salvador "where workers were paid the extreme sub-poverty wage of 8 cents an hour," and, according to the New York Times, union supporters were threatened, drinking water was contaminated, and employees were illegally forced to work large amounts of overtime. In a second factory in El Salvador, management spied on union supporters and employed them in substandard jobs with lower pay.

A WRC report on Dada Dhaka, a factory in Cambodia that also provides products to the Dallas Cowboys, stated:

"Factory management specifically told the workers that that they were being dismissed because they had learned about labor law and they then threatened some workers with physical harm if they did not accept their dismissal and the severance payments offered by the company. In the case of the first worker dismissed - a woman in her mid-twenties who had suffered a severe hand injury as a result of an accident with an ironing machine in the factory several years prior - the factory's human resources manager threatened that he would injure her already marred hand again if she did not sign the dismissal documents."

It is no wonder that students throughout the country are protesting the Cowboys' attempts to infiltrate university bookstores, and why SCALE at USC is particularly outraged at the underhanded tactics that the university used to handle the deal. As stated in the New York Times:

"The Dallas Cowboys have a new merchandising arm that recently jumped into the business of producing college-logo apparel for leading universities, but the Cowboys subsidiary has already encountered a stubborn opponent - student groups that contend it is using overseas sweatshops."

Despite the fact that the deal with the Cowboys will result in increased revenue that will be invested into programs for students at USC, to many students that result does not justify the cost of aligning with such a company.

Curran commented that USC licensees do have to uphold the USC Workplace Code of Conduct, which is a list of standards for workers' rights. Through the deal with the Cowboys, Curran said, fewer factories will be producing USC apparel, and thus the university will have greater ability to influence change in the factories.

Yet, a third party is still required to report violations of the code in factories supplying USC apparel, and the university would then, according to Curran, simply "expect licensees to work with the factory and any other stakeholders to investigate the claim(s) and to take steps to help ensure that any needed corrections and continuous improvements are made."

But will that be enough, when the university is not affiliated with any independent third party sweatshop monitoring organizations, and seems to leave all enforcement of change in factories that may be found to be violating the code of conduct, to the licensees that were responsible for the violations in the first place?

Ohio State University (OSU) is the next target of the Dallas Cowboys, with the administrationnegotiating a deal without student or faculty input, following a similar pattern to the way USC handled its deal.

In an interview Julia Wang, co-president of SCALE, said:

"Despite the fact that SCALE had been in talks with administration about these very licensing issues, they did not think it necessary to inform us or get our input on whether or not we thought this deal was a good idea. In the end, administration seems to care about maximizing its profits over the livelihoods of thousands of workers who make Trojan apparel all around the world."

Students, when united, are able to pressure their university to adjust its actions by demonstrating that they care about the university's policies. SCALE is determined to garner enough support from students and faculty to persuade USC that to align with organizations that so blatantly abuse the rights of workers is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated by students working toward building a better world.

Now that the deal with the Dallas Cowboys is already signed, SCALE's response is to pressure the university to, in turn, pressure the Cowboys to change their labor practices and ensure that all their workers are treated justly.

Ms. Wang continued:

"Ironically, USC just launched their ‘We are considerate' campaign. How about we extend the same courtesy to those who make USC sweatshirts and jerseys? We want more than just talk from the administration - we want concrete actions showing that they actually uphold the value of their own code of conduct."

To get involved with SCALE at USC, contact them here.

To get involved with USAS's fight against the Dallas Cowboys, contact them here.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.