Suppliers of Queen’s apparel unethical

‘Queen’s is not upholding their Code of Conduct’ by purchasing uniforms

Stephanie Simoes, ArtSci ’09
Stephanie Simoes, ArtSci ’09

The uniforms worn by Queen’s athletes represent our university.

On the outside of the uniform, the word “Queen’s” is prominently displayed for all to admire. On the inside, however, hides a nasty little secret. The athletes’ perspiration wasn’t the only sweat to touch
the uniform.

The secret lies on the tag, which reads “Russell Athletics.” Russell hasn’t been respecting workers’ rights in their factories, and by purchasing from this company, Queen’s is not upholding their
Code of Conduct.

The Worker Rights consortium reported that in April 2005, 64 employees at the Hermosa factory,
a company from which Russell sourced what was produced at their factory in El Salvador, tried to organize a union. The next month, the factory shut down and Russell resumed production at another factory.

The workers who had tried to organize the union were blacklisted and were owed a total of approximately $800,000 in overtime and other payments.

Queen’s University follows a trademark licensing agreement.

This policy provides standards with which factories of Queen’s suppliers must comply. Two of the rules in this agreement were broken by Russell. The first says “licensees and their contractors shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.” (IV.C.9)

In other words, workers should be allowed to organize a union. The second says that “employees
shall be compensated for overtime hours” (IV.C.3).

The El Salvador incident occurred a year and a half ago, but Queen’s is still purchasing from Russell. The agreement is not the most effective way of establishing workers’ rights.

The ethical purchasing policy—that is, the refusal to purchase from factories that do not respect workers’ rights—is somewhat flawed in design.

As seen with Russell, once problems with a factory are found, that factory will often shut down
and the companies will resume production elsewhere.

The conditions at the new factory are rarely any better and the employees at the previous factory lose their jobs.

The solution would be to adopt a Designated Supplier Program (DSP). While the ethical purchasing
policy aims to discontinue purchases from factories that have been proven to be “bad” the DSP aims to discontinue purchases from factories that haven’t proven themselves to be “good.”

Instead of punishing companies for disregarding workers’ rights, the DSP seeks to reward companies
for respecting them.

If a company proves itself to be respectful of workers’ rights, they are placed on a list of designated suppliers. Already 30 universities in the U.S. have signed on to the DSP, including the University of
California’s ten campuses. This motivates the factories to get things together and get on the list.

At Queen’s No Sweat, we are seeking to get Queen’s to adopt the Designated Supplier Program.

We could be the first university in Canada to implement this system. Members of No Sweat recently met with Principal Karen Hitchcock and Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker to talk about this.

One concern raised by Laker is that changing suppliers would be detrimental to stores in the Kingston community that supply to Queen’s. It’s important to realize the DSP doesn’t aim to find new suppliers for Queen’s but to pressure the companies which are already supplying us to improve their practices.
Laker was also concerned that adopting the DSP would increase the price of clothing. In the average
sweatshop, only 0.2 per cent of the cost goes towards wages, according to policy-net.com. Ideally, lothing prices would not be affected at all, as companies would cut that cost out of their profit (75 per cent of the price of clothing)—a smart trade-off to make for the extra business they would receive for
being a designated supplier.

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Stephanie Simoes is a member of Queen’s No Sweat. To contact Queen’s No Sweat, e-mail nosweatqueens@hotmail.com or visit their website at clubs.myams.org/oxfam/nosweat.html. They are hosting a Make Your Own Sweat-Free clothing workshop on Monday in Room 351 in the JDUC. Tickets are $2 at Destinations.

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