For a university that promotes the importance of a global community, Northern knows little about the international merchandise sold on its campus.
Currently, NMU sells clothing and accessories from JanSport, a subsidiary of the VF corporation. VF has been under scrutiny for its workplace practices in foreign manufacturing companies for years, signaling a continual problem.
An independent non-profit organization, The Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), investigates and reports on worker conditions worldwide, focusing on companies that create university apparel and accessories. This includes JanSport and consequently, its parent company. Most recently, the WRC concluded that VF factories making university and non-university apparel in El Salvador and Kenya were violating workers’ rights. This included refusing overtime and back pay compensation, and unlawfully blacklisting workers.
However, it is uncertain if products that are made in foreign countries and then sold to students are made in factories where workers are mistreated.
The NMU bookstore relies on the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to monitor the VF and other companies activities. However, the FLA allows company licensees, such as JanSport, to create a plan for monitoring their own activities as well as submitting reports to FLA, according to the FLA Web site. Additionally, VF pays for these services. So who’s watching who here?
While NMU Bookstore Manager Mike Kuzak said NMU does not support sweatshops and unfair work practices, NMU has is no information on JanSport products sporting the NMU logo.
Northern needs to play a more active role when purchasing and selling materials to its students.
NMU Vice President and Academic Provost Fred Joyal said Northern would consider looking into this matter if students could prove that products were made in “exploited situations.” But NMU shouldn’t wait for students.
Colleges nationwide have joined the WRC. The organization sends reports to universities that inform them of where and how their merchandise is produced. It also requires that universities create their own Code of Conduct. If manufacturers do not follow this code of conduct, their merchandise cannot be sold on campus. In joining this organization, NMU would be taking an active role in the products it sells.