After weeks of deliberation, the University of Minnesota decided to cut its contract with Russell Athletic following a meeting Wednesday.
BACKGROUND: Students march against Russell Athletic over labor issues by Josh Katzenstein, Minnesota Daily
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg , who led the team reviewing the contract, said he instructed the Collegiate Licensing Company to sever ties with the apparel company on March 31, which is consistent with the date other colleges are cutting their contracts.
The contract cut makes the University the 13th college to cut Russell and the fifth in the Big Ten, joining the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and Penn State University.
In 2007, the University brought in $26,471 in revenue from Russell products.
The University began looking into the contract following allegations that the company closed a factory in Honduras following unionizing efforts by workers. Jerzees de Honduras closed Jan. 30 and left 1,800 people jobless.
Rotenberg sent a letter to Russell offering them a Feb. 20 deadline to reply to the allegations. After reviewing the response, Rotenberg said the University decided to cut the ties.
“We determined that the labor code that we have at the University had been violated, and we needed to sever this relationship because of that violation,” he said.
The claims break the University’s Trademark Licensee Code of Conduct, which says, “Licensees shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”
Since the reported allegations against Russell, Minnesota Public Research Interest Group member Matt Abbott has been urging the University to cut the contract. Along with MPIRG and other University student groups, Abbott, a senior from the University’s Morris campus, participated in a protest Friday where students dropped off nearly 300 student letters at the president’s office, urging a cut.
“I feel that it’s the right decision. This University needs to stand by our codes of conduct,” Abbott said. “We need to talk the talk and walk the walk.”
Abbott also said this cut sends a powerful message to other University licensees because it shows that the University will stand up for workers’ rights.
But Abbott said this decision is not the final course of action the University needs to take. He said MPIRG has been pressing the University to join 44 other colleges that have endorsed the Designated Supplier Program.
Although the U.S. Department of Justice has not yet implemented this Worker Rights Consortium program that would enhance the enforcement of codes of conducts, Abbott said the University should join the other colleges and become a leader in the workers’ rights movement by endorsing the DSP.
“It’s great that we are taking this step in becoming the 13th school to cut the Russell contract,” Abbott said. “But we need to step it up and let the nation know and let the world know that the University of Minnesota takes workers’ rights seriously.”