On Spanier, Penn State & Russell Athletics

We had our meeting with President Graham Spanier a few weeks ago. We spent some time taking a critical look at the two hour meeting. We won’t forget the important lessons it taught us, but the meeting didn’t mean the end of our campaign. Neither will the next meeting with Mr. Spanier, nor the meeting after that.

Mr. Spanier refused to sign a letter of support of the principles of the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), despite his statements that he agrees with its fundamental ideas. His current position was disappointing, though not wholly unexpected.

He said he wants to work on new projects to fix the sweatshop issue, but has yet to put forth any concrete ideas. We’re willing to work with Mr. Spanier if his plans show promise, but we still believe that Penn State’s support can give the DSP critical mass and lead to its implementation. We’re still waiting for Mr. Spanier’s specific concerns regarding the DSP so we can address them.

The meeting is in the past. Looking to the present, we’re now focusing on a major case of worker abuse in Honduras. Jerzees de Honduras, a collegiate apparel factory owned by Russell Athletics that employs 1800 people, is in the process of closing.

This specific factory, as opposed to the two others in the country, is being closed because it is a union factory. A recent report by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) illustrates that union busting was a goal for Russell Athletic in its decision to close the factory. Unfortunately, this is an example of all-too-frequent brand flight, a major problem in today’s supply chain model that only the DSP addresses.

If this factory closes, not only will 1800 people lose their job, but they will be blacklisted. This is a method used by corporations that puts all the names of union employees on a list. This list is then distributed to all other factory managers in the country, effectively preventing those on the list from ever being hired at another factory.

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) had a conference call with some workers from this factory that our group was invited to. It was shocking to hear firsthand the instances of worker abuse and union busting. The emotion in the voices of the workers was moving. The most unfortunate part is that it was a month between that call and the WRC report validating what we knew to be true.

We’re asking Mr. Spanier to suspend his contract with Russell Athletic. Their act of union busting not only violates Honduran law but also Penn State’s Code of Conduct.

Mr. Spanier emphasized his willingness to take meaningful action during our meeting with him. If he is willing to take a stand against worker abuse, now’s the perfect time for him to do so.

John Fitzgerald
USAS Member