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UW terminates contract with Russell Corp. following violations

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Members of the Student Labor Action Project walk up the steps of Gerberding Hall Feb. 4 to encourage President Mark Emmert to cut the contact with Russell Corp. The contract’s termination was announced yesterday.

Early this month, members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) at UW marched up the stairs of Gerberding Hall to President Mark Emmert’s office to demand that the university terminate its contract with Russell Corp. to produce UW apparel because Russell had violated workers’ rights at a factory in Honduras.

Yesterday, the university released an official statement that the licensing agreement with Russell Corp. was, in fact, terminated nearly a week later on Feb. 13.

“This is a really big deal,” said SLAP member George Robertson, who has been actively campaigning for the university to take action since workers’ rights violations were first reported in October 2008. The Worker Rights Consortium released a detailed report the following month showing that Russell was illegally closing a factory producing UW apparel in Honduras in an effort to break up organized unions.

The university sent a letter to Russell in December, putting the company on notice and giving it 30 days to provide additional information that the university could use to evaluate the alleged violations. Russell proceeded to close the factory in late January. Two weeks later, UW decided to terminate its contract “effective immediately.”

“This sets a huge precedent because this is the first time in the history of the university where a contract has been cut based on labor rights violations,” Robertson said. “UW has always said they’re a leader in labor rights, but this is the first time they’ve ever done anything about it.”

Russell has been given 60 days to deplete all merchandise containing the university’s licensed indicia. Currently, Russell manufactures mostly fleece and T-shirts containing UW indicia.

Eric Mosher, executive director of creative communications at UW, said the university received $10,930 in royalties from Russell in 2008 from the sale of UW logo apparel, and that Russell was the 15th largest apparel licensee of UW’s logo.

“I don’t think we ever considered [the money side],” Mosher said. “We came to the conclusion that Russell had violated our contract and that’s the end of the story. We felt to let them know we were serious we had to take action.”

Even though SLAP members are pleased the contract has been cut, they are frustrated by how long the process took and feel the university needs to be more proactive when it comes to its code of conduct on labor issues.

“It took them three months to take action,” Robertson said. “Had they taken action in October, the factory might have remained opened.”

Reach news editor Casey Smith at news@dailyuw.com.

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