[UPDATE] SLAM, other groups bring JanSport protest to Welcome Center
May 2, 2014
UPDATE: The University released a press release on May 6 that said it would not order more merchandise from JanSport.
“NYU has decided not to place any new orders of merchandise produced by JanSport until and unless JanSport and its parent company, VF Corporation, agree to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is aimed at making Bangladesh factories safe workplaces,” the release said.
The release went on to say that if it does not appear that JanSport will sign the accord by next fall, NYU will end its licenses with the company.
Before this release, the university had stated that it would continue to work with JanSport because it does not have factories in Bangladesh, but Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs Lynne Brown said the university has reconsidered its position.
“After consulting with other universities and the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring group that provides guidance to universities on these types of issues, it has become clear to the University that while in some respects JanSport and VF operate as separate companies, with regard to labor issues and practices, they act as one company,” she said in the release.
Original story as follows:
Members of the Student Labor Action Movement assembled in the Gould Welcome Center for a sit-in to protest NYU’s ties to VF Corporation, a clothing company under scrutiny for having sweatshops and dangerous factories in Bangladesh.
Rob Ascherman, Gallatin sophomore and SLAM member, said Lynne Brown, senior vice President for University Relations, and Marc Wais, vice president for Global Student Affairs, met with the protesters.
“[This] was a victory in itself because we forced them to come to us,” Ascherman said. “Two hours later, they booked a room in the [Kimmel Center for University Life] for us to meet.”
Ascherman added that the group is expecting favorable results next week.
Last semester, the group fought for NYU to change its code of conduct by making all factories that make university apparel sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
While VF does not produce apparel for NYU, one of its subsidiaries, JanSport, does.
NYU spokesman John Beckman said the issue is complex and nuanced.
“While JanSport does not operate in Bangladesh, at issue is whether the presence of its parent company — VF Corporation, which does manufacture apparel in Bangladesh, though not for NYU — should compel JanSport to sign the Accord,” Beckman said.
Anne Falcon, CAS sophomore and member of SLAM, said the student group was sitting in to demand that NYU President John Sexton talk to the group about NYU and VF.
“The person who has the ability to make the decision about the JanSport contract is John Sexton,” Falcon said. “He has not made a decision because he refuses to meet with us.”
SLAM was joined by allies from the Students for Justice in Palestine as well as members participating in the May Day Immigrant Workers Justice Tour. At 1:30 p.m., the tour arrived on campus and joined SLAM members in demonstration as planned.
During the demonstration, the groups, comprising around 100 people, chanted together.
“Hey hey, ho ho, sweatshop labor has got to go,” they chanted. “VF, you’re no good. Treat your workers like you should.”
The tour brought together those interested in a wide range of immigration issues. CAS freshman Claris Park said the May Day tour was standing in solidarity with SLAM.
“We asked one of our people who has contacts all over the city who are involved in the workers’ campaign … if they were willing to send in a couple of people, and we got this entire workers tour,” Park said. “They support all workers. They’re here to support us. We are standing in solidarity.”
SLAM chose the Welcome Center so prospective students who were touring NYU students would see the protest. Falcon said that the location was chosen to communicate the problems that the administration does not have open dialogue with students.
“I think that this is an issue that students should know about coming in,” Falcon said.
Falcon said she would not mind if a student decided not to come to NYU because they saw the SLAM protest while touring.
LS freshman Nate Faust had different views on the choice of location.
“Personally, if I were running a protest in front of the Welcome Center, it seems like a hinderance to every party involved, just because there are so many people going in and out of there,” he said. “If I was a prospective student, seeing that wouldn’t really deter me from enrolling.”
Beckman said the Worker Rights Consortium, a group that NYU is a part of, is meeting today to discuss these issues.
“We have told the students that we will get back to them next week with a decision based on what we learned at today’s meeting,” Beckman said.
Additional reporting by Ann Schmidt. Kavish Harjai is a news editor. Email them at [email protected]