Licensees that produce Duke apparel in Bangladesh must sign safety accord
Companies that manufacture Duke logo goods in Bangladesh will operate under stricter safety regulations, a direct response to the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,000 workers, Duke University announced last week.
The university is expanding its licensing policy to require all licensees in Bangladesh to sign and abide by the Accord on Building and Fire Safety, which calls for independent safety inspections at factories, repairs and renovations to factories to maintain safety standards and a strong role for workers in improving factories’ safety practices.
Jim Wilkerson, Duke's director of trademark licensing and stores operations, told The Herald-Sun that about 10 percent of Duke logo goods are produced in Bangladesh, and that number is growing as Bangladesh has become the number-two apparel manufacturing country in the world.
But it also is one of the cheapest labor countries in the world, Wilkerson said, where wages average only $37 a month, about one-fifth of the wages in China. And more than 1,250 people have died in factory disasters in Bangladesh during the past year.
“Obviously the previous methods for trying to ensure safety in Bangladesh did not work,” Wilkerson said. “That problem and the tragedy there of course sort of gave life to the formation of the accord.”
He added that this accord gives “more teeth” to Duke’s code of conduct for companies that manufacture Duke goods, which dates to 1997.
“It was actually the first code of conduct for collegiate manufacturing in the country,” he said.
The accord will allow for communication among labor organizations, nongovernmental organizations and the manufacturing companies in Bangladesh, whereas previously the licensees themselves had to ensure their factories were safe and healthy work environments.
Duke is one of 180 colleges and universities as of August that are part of the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization that conducts investigations of working conditions in factories around the globe. The purpose is to combat sweatshops and protect the rights of workers who make apparel and other products.
Duke has been a member of the consortium for about nine years, and Wilkerson is a board member. The consortium, he said, was instrumental in crafting the safety accord for Bangladesh.
“It’s not a pleasant place for apparel manufacturing and we’re doing what we can to improve the conditions there for the workers,” he said.
The accord has been signed by nearly 100 brands and retailers from 19 countries, including many of the apparel industry’s biggest companies.
A student organization at Duke, Duke United Students Against Sweatshops, also brought concerns to Duke administrators about two weeks ago regarding working conditions in Bangladesh.
Duke freshman Zoe Willingham helped restart the Students Against Sweatshops Duke chapter this fall, and she said they hope to use the university’s profitable brand to create change for factory workers overseas. She said the fast pace of the licensing policy change surprised her.
“We expected this to be an issue that would drag out for a whole year,” Willingham said. “The battle is not totally won though. … We definitely still have a role in encouraging the school to execute this policy in the broadest sense possible so we can protect as many factories and workers as we can. Hopefully we can extend it beyond just collegiate apparel.”
Duke United Students Against Sweatshops also will be raising awareness on campus this semester. The group will hold a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday in front of Duke Chapel to remember the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse and similar industrial disasters. Students are encouraged to bring their own candles.