UNC-Chapel Hill announced Thursday that it would require all companies that produce UNC apparel to sign an accord governing worker safety in Bangladesh.
The university said it would require UNC logo gear to be made by companies that sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh — instead of the separate Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The Alliance is supported by major companies such as Wal-Mart, Gap, Target and Greensboro-based VF Corp., parent company of Wrangler.
Activists and worker safety advocates have stated their strong preference for the Accord, considered to have more stringent requirements. It includes independent safety inspections at factories and public reporting of those inspections.
“This decision reaffirms our commitment to worker safety in Bangladesh and clarifies our position on the requirements for licensees that make UNC-logoed clothing in Bangladesh,” said a statement by Chancellor Carol Folt, who added that the university would closely monitor worker safety issues.
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Bangladesh is a major producer of clothing, but its worker safety record has been a big question after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse near Dhaka, where more than 1,100 workers died. There were hundreds of deaths in two other factory fires in 2012. The events prompted renewed attention by student activists, reminiscent of the 1990s antisweatshop movement aimed at companies that produced athletic shoes in Asia.
The issue had been a hot topic last year on campus, prompting petitions, protests and a sit-in outside Folt’s office. The university’s internal Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee studied the issue and said it preferred the Accord.
Students said they were glad that Folt chose the Accord, which they termed “the only viable” agreement. But they called on her to end contracts with VF. They said while VF stopped producing UNC-logo items in Bangladesh, it still makes clothing there.
“We will only be happy when Chancellor Folt requires that all UNC licensees producing any type of apparel in Bangladesh join the Accord,” said Olivia Abrecht, a UNC senior and member of Student Action with Workers.
Layna Mosley, a political science professor whose research includes economic globalization and labor rights, had recommended the Accord. On Thursday, she wrote in an email: “While it remains to be seen how effective the Accord will be, and while it only addresses labor issues in a single country, it’s a step in the right direction.”
UNC’s decision had been stalled while the UNC General Administration staff reviewed licensing practices for all of the system’s 17 campuses. UNC President Tom Ross, in a Jan. 7 memo, said all campuses had to require one or the other worker safety agreement, but could choose either the Accord or the Alliance when renewing or starting licensing deals with companies.