Students at The Ohio State University are demanding that workers producing their college-logo apparel in factories around the world are being treated with the dignity they deserve. But OSU, the largest university in the United States, is moving forward in signing a corrupt monopoly deal worth $9 million with a notorious human rights abuser- the Dallas Cowboys' apparel line, Silver Star Merchandising.
Multiple labor rights monitoring organizations and the New York Times have reported horrendous labor violations around the globe in factories producing Cowboys merchandise. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights reports that in Style Avenue, a garment factory in El Salvador producing Cowboys gear, workers—the vast majority of them women—are locked in the factory. Drenched in their own sweat with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F, workers earn a base wage of just 78 cents an hour. To reach unrealistic production goals, workers are routinely kept in the factory overtime without pay, sometimes working mandatory all-night 19 to 25 hour shifts. Drinking water or daring to use the bathroom results in reprimands. This is just one of five reported sweatshop factories in which Silver Star merchandise in manufactured. In Ocean Sky, another factory, workers are paid just one tenth of one percent of the retail price for each Dallas Cowboys jersey they make. In Indonesia, the Cowboys abandoned workers whose factory shut down without a penny of the $3.3 million in severance they are legally owed.
Furthermore, students obtained University e-mails detailing the corrupt nature of this potential exclusive licensing deal. With disregard for the legally mandated public bidding process, in November 2010, Ohio State’s Director of Trademark and Licensing promised this deal to the Cowboys Chief Operating Officer: “The only caveat is that I may be forced into looking at ‘bids’ simply because we are a state agency. But don’t fear that process. Again, you will know EVERY step we take... Rest easy, my friend.” The university engaged in illegal communication with the Cowboys after the public bidding process began to ensure that the Cowboys would win.
Despite student outrage, OSU has made no commitment to enforce their own Labor Code of Conduct or to uphold the basic rights of workers producing OSU-logo apparel. United Students Against Sweatshops, a labor rights student organization, is demanding change. USAS student representatives and concerned faculty must be incorporated into the decision- making process to ensure transparency and that millions of dollars in OSU apparel are not invested in sweatshop conditions.
Don’t let exploitation represent higher education. Tell Ohio State to say no to the Cowboys’ sweatshop abuses, and take an active stand for human rights!
I am disturbed to discover that OSU administrators have been engaged in a rigged process to consider a monopoly apparel licensing contract with the Dallas Cowboys, whose labor rights abuse across the globe have made headlines in the New York Times. I am shocked not only that OSU would consider such a deal with a notorious apparel company, but also secretively work behind the scenes to ensure that the Cowboys get this deal while creating the illusion of transparency and competitive bidding.
More and more stories of sweatshop abuse in the Cowboys' supplier factories keep emerging. On October 13, it was reported that workers in El Salvador are locked in the factory overnight just to meet the quota to make Cowboys apparel, while drenched in sweat. In Indonesia, the Cowboys stole more than a half year's in wages from the poorest garment workers and refused for months to claim any responsibility for the workers making their product. In El Salvador, the Cowboys have denied responsibility when its suppliers fired union leaders, paid its workers poverty wages, and even provided them with contaminated drinking water. In Bangladesh, the Cowboys' subcontracted workers were threatened with severe physical abuse when they attended trainings on their basic legal rights.
I am disappointed that the OSU administration has not engaged in a good faith and fair process, and shut out students from a game-changing decision that would end relationships for its small and medium-sized Ohio-based businesses that have depended for decades on supplying Buckeye-logoed apparel.
I urge you to immediately re-start the bidding process, exclude the Cowboys, and incorporate concerned students and faculty into a new decision-making committee to determine the most appropriate licensee to produce Buckeye-logo apparel.