“UNC’s motto is ‘Lux Libertas,’ which means light and liberty,” she said. “And personally I don’t believe that our University is being the light in this situation, and we’re not giving workers liberty.”
Owens said the letter calls for a meeting with Ross and other stakeholders involved.
Student Action with Workers, a local project of the national organization United Students Against Sweatshops, has been working to ensure UNC-system schools cut ties with the VF Corporation, which is an apparel-provider for the University, and wants the University to require apparel licensees to join the Bangladesh Safety Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
“We’re here delivering a letter to President Ross hoping that he’s going to make the right decision,” Owens said. “This is not just about workers’ rights. It’s about human rights.”
Members of the group said the VF Corporation is not ensuring the safety of its workers to the same extent as Bangladesh Safety Accord apparel licensee members. Signers of the Accord pledge to contribute money to independent inspections and maintenance of the buildings, among other things.
“The Accord is this new revolutionary way of making sure these factories are safe,” said Senior Olivia Abrecht, who is a Student Action with Workers member. “It functions despite any government that might not be willing to enforce its own rules. It allows labor unions to have a voice in the process and thereby allows workers to have a voice in the process.”
Abrecht said the VF Corporation is a member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, not a member of the Accord, which she feels doesn’t protect workers as well.
David Harrison, assistant vice president for legal affairs for the general administration, and Bridget Bishop, staff attorney, met with the members after they presented the letter to discuss the next steps.
Bishop said they sent out a memorandum on Friday to UNC-system schools to research what they are doing and to request data.
“So what we’re doing is gathering the information because we don’t know,” Harrison said.
“We have to figure out who’s doing what where. So we’re asking them who’s sourcing their licensed material in Bangladesh, what it is, where they do it.”
Bishop said Abrecht and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to speak at a future date. She could not guarantee Ross would be at that meeting.
“We definitely are taking it seriously,” Bishop said.