As of December, Harvard has joined an increasing number of universities that have pulled out of athletic sportswear licensing agreements with Russell Athletics after the company closed down a factory in Honduras in response to workers’ unionization attempts.
The University’s decision stemmed from its commitment to adhere to certain codes of conduct with respect to workers’ rights as a member of the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consoritum, two global workers’ rights groups.
Rick Calixto, director of the Harvard Trademark Program, wrote in an e-mail that Harvard has been “closely monitoring the situation” with Russell and resolved not to renew its trademark licence after it expired in December.
“We would only reconsider renewing if Russell takes the proactive steps that are being requested of them by the FLA to remedy the current situation,” he wrote. He declined to comment further on the situation.
Russell Athletics sportswear continues to be sold at The Coop, said the Harvard Coop’s President Jerry P. Murphy ’73.
“The only thing we have heard is that there was a concern regarding the situation with Russell but there has been no official word yet,” Murphy said. “Usually the way it happens is that you are not forced to remove it but you are not allowed to order anymore because there isn’t a license...You are allowed to sell through what you have.”
The WRC released a memorandum to universities affiliated with Russell on October 10, 2008, stating that the “university community faces an issue of serious and urgent concern,” as the athletics company showed hostility toward workers in their efforts to unionize, which are protected by university codes of conduct.
On January 28, the FLA released a report on its investigations regarding Russell’s decision to close the Jerzees de Honduras factory, in violation of the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct. The report concluded that the move appeared to have been driven by a desire to shut down the union.
Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-’09 of the Student Labor Action Movement, said she thought that how universities were dealing with this issue was promising.
“A strong statement has been made by many schools, which shows the strength of the student body and sets the tone for other factories’ treatment of workers’ rights,” she said.
Other universities taking action against the Russell Cooperation include Cornell, Columbia, Georgetown, and Purdue. Mike Powers, director of operations at Cornell, said he predicted “a bit of a snowball effect, as more and more people will jump on board.”
Auret Van Heerden, president and CEO of FLA, said that he supported “universities sending a very strong message of disapproval to Russell,” but cautioned against full disengagement with Russell.
“I think the engagement and leverage that major customers have can drive change as well,” he said.