It's been almost a year since the horrific collapse of Rana Plaza, an eight-story factory tower near Dhaka, Bangladesh. The April 24, 2013, collapse left more than 1,100 garment workers dead, and many survivors are still struggling for compensation for ruined bodies and lives.
Bangladesh doesn't seem so far from Madison when you consider that many of those workers toiled so Americans and other Westerners can have cheap clothing. Those ubiquitous red sweatshirts clogging up the streets before and after Wisconsin Badgers football games are likely made in countries like Bangladesh, Honduras or Indonesia, where companies can profit from low wages and meager workers'-rights protections.
The Clean Clothes Campaign keeps track of whether companies that had links to factories in Rana Plaza have contributed to the victims' fund. Among the offenders: Walmart, Benetton and Children's Place.
Thankfully, no UW-Madison products were made at Rana Plaza. But according to a statement by Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the UW has contracts with 447 companies to manufacture products with the UW's name or logo.
Now the UW is taking some steps that may help prevent future tragedies in Bangladesh. Late last week, the university and its Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee announced it would require compliance with the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety from all licensees that source, produce or purchase goods in that nation.
The accord features safety inspections and public reporting of inspection reports. More than 150 apparel corporations from 20 countries are signatories at this point. Currently, only seven of the 21 UW licensees active in Bangladesh have signed the accord. That is likely to increase as Bucky gets in touch with these operations.
The UW calls itself a "longtime leader among colleges and universities working to curb abuses in licensed apparel manufacturing." According to a news release, The companies that make Bucky merch already are supposed to abide by a code of conduct maintained by the Collegiate Licensing Company and monitored by the Worker Rights Consortium. That code addresses wages, working hours, overtime, forced labor, health and safety, discrimination, women's rights, and freedom of association, among other things.
Licenses for UW products bring in $3 million each year to the university, so I'm glad the chancellor and the institution are doing the right thing in Bangladesh.
Still, it wouldn't hurt to explore making some Bucky gear here at home. Witness the popularity of American Giant, a hoodie designed in San Francisco and made in South Carolina with cotton grown in the United States. People wait months for these sweatshirts, which were designed with the help of a guy who helped develop the iPhone at Apple.
Scott Walker remains a ways behind his job-creation targets. Maybe he should throw some weight behind the idea of a Wisconsin-based factory for Bucky.