The banner pressured University administrators to cut UNC’s licensing ties with VF Corporation, an apparel company that refuses to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Two Department of Public Safety officers asked students to take the banner down because of complaints from South Building.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement to improve worker conditions, was motivated by factory disasters in Bangladesh over the past ten years and a historically large factory collapse a year and a half ago.
“It kind of forced people to start paying attention to the horrible working conditions in Bangladesh. It started getting workers angry enough to go out into the streets and protest,” senior Olivia Abrecht said.
“So, in solidarity with them, students all across the country have been demanding that their universities cut the contracts with any apparel producer that makes their clothing in Bangladesh and doesn’t sign onto an accord on fire and building safety.”
Albrecht said the accord requires independent inspections and basic safety standards such as sprinklers.
“We’re demanding all these universities require the accord as a condition of having a contract with the university,” Abrecht said.
Sophomore Richard Lindayen said the size of VF Corp., which makes apparel for brands such as The North Face, Wrangler and Vans, makes it essential for them to sign the accord.
“They are one of the primary largest companies that are refusing to sign the accord right now,” Lindayen said.
Altha Cravey, geography professor and SAW faculty advisor, has served on the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, which urged Chancellor Carol Folt to push VF Corp. to sign the accord at the end of the spring semester. Cravey was not on the committee when the recommendation was made.
Before taking action, Folt also met with the CEO of the Greensboro-based VF Corp., Eric Wiseman.
“What she did was, the next day, she passed the buck to (UNC-system President) Tom Ross,” Cravey said.
Earlier this month, SAW members went to Ross’ house to present a letter asking for a meeting; Ross, was not home when the group came.
SAW members said the controversy has made them question the University’s status as a moral institution.
“By not cutting their contract with VF, it’s like they are being hypocritical. You can’t support justice and freedom only when it’s convenient,” freshman Ebony Watkins said.
Abrecht said SAW will continue to escalate its campaign until the University takes action.
“Now it’s Tom Ross’ decision and it’s system-level whether they require the accord for all licensees of the entire UNC-system, but Chancellor Folt still has the power to cut VF Corporation,” Abrecht said.
Senior Catherine Crowe said SAW hung the banner in view of Folt’s office windows and stressed the importance of immediate action.
“A fire could happen any day.”