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AU Continues to Lead Fight against Global Sweatshops

American University among first 20 schools to sign on to Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

License-holders will have to subscribe to the accord within 30 days to make AU gear.

On November 10, 2000, American University became a Workers Rights Consortium affiliate, landing it among a group of the first universities in the United States to join the then-new organization dedicated to advocating for the safety and fair treatment of apparel workers in factories around the world.

Now 14 years later, AU continues to lead the fight against global sweatshops and their dangerous working conditions as it recently became one of the first 20 universities to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The President’s Office made the announcement through a campus-wide memo.

The accord is an independent, legally binding agreement among apparel companies, retail signatories, and worker representatives that seeks to improve factory safety through a three-part program which includes independent factory inspections, public reporting of inspection results, worker training, and resources for factory improvements during a five-year period.

The university’s signing on to the accord comes at a critical time for worker safety in Bangladesh. Recently, three Bangladeshi workers died instantly when construction materials and the walls of different floors of the under-construction building Captex Garments Ltd. fell on them. April 24 marks the one-year anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse in which at least 1,129 people died.

By signing on to the accord, AU joins the company of Brown, Duke, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, New York, Penn State, Syracuse, and Temple universities, as well as the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington–Seattle, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, among others.  

The AU End Deathtraps Coalition, a student group, first brought the accord to the university’s attention last November. AU’s Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices and Service considered the accord and the issues involved over the course of several months. Their review included a visit by the executive director of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), who delivered a presentation on the FLA and addressed the concerns about worker rights and safety related to recent garment factory fires in Bangladesh.  

Last month, the project team met with three members of the AU End Deathtraps Coalition, who presented comprehensive information on the situation in Bangladesh, the related initiatives sponsored by the FLA and the WRC, and the response by the U.S. apparel industry, particularly university licensees that are producing collegiate products in Bangladesh. Project team staff also conducted independent research on the issue and provided additional resources and information to the team members.

“We were very grateful for the opportunity to present our case to the project team, and we felt that the presentation that we gave and dialogue that we had with them afterwards were our best opportunities to present a strong, comprehensive case that allowed us to showcase the thought and research that went into our recommendation,” said Katie Plank, one of the students who presented to the project team. “The project team was very receptive to hearing our point of view and asked important, thoughtful questions, and I'm glad that we had a chance to help provide the information that went into crafting the recommendation for this decision.”

AU's licensing agent will notify all current licensees that, if they produce, source, or procure AU-licensed apparel from or in Bangladesh, they must subscribe to the accord within 30 days in order to maintain their licenses.  

Subscription to the accord for will be a requirement of all current and future licensees that produce, source, or procure AU-licensed apparel from or in Bangladesh.

“The members of the AU End Deathtraps Coalition are proud to be a part of a university that has demonstrated such a strong commitment to worker's rights,” Plank added. “The fact that AU is on the cutting edge of this movement, as the 17th school to make this change, shows that AU continues to be a leader among American colleges.”

Members of the AU community may ask questions about the accord and the university’s decision to sign on to it at the Spring Open Forum with President Kerwin and Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Sine at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22.