April 2, 2014
Topic: Campus News
The University of Michigan will require all manufacturers of licensed products made at factories in Bangladesh to meet specific worker safety standards.
President Mary Sue Coleman announced Tuesday that U-M will adopt the recommendation of the President's Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights that all U-M licensees either sign and abide by a worker safety initiative called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh or demonstrate that they have an equivalent safety plan.
The accord is a five-year agreement between apparel manufacturers and global and Bangladeshi trade unions to establish a fire and building safety program.
It calls for public reporting, independent fire and building safety inspectors at factories, and a commitment to workers in improving factory safety practices.
The accord was developed in response to a eight-story factory collapse that killed more than 1,000 outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in April 2013. Adidas Inc., one of U-M's major licensees for branded apparel, has signed the accord.
United Students Against Sweatshops at U-M brought the issue to Coleman's attention last fall. USAS requested that the university require its apparel licensees sign the accord to ensure a greater accountability for the safety of workers.
Coleman referred the issue to the President's Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights for deliberation and recommendation.
Following a thorough review process, the committee recommended that the university require its licensees to sign the accord or demonstrate to the satisfaction of the committee that they have a safety plan equivalent to the standards in the accord and the capacity to implement and enforce it.
Coleman accepted the committee's recommendation Tuesday.
"We expect that all licensees provide workers a safe and healthy working environment regardless of what country they are working in to produce goods," Coleman said. "I am impressed by USAS's commitment to the well-being of the workers in Bangladesh."
Ravi Anupindi, chair of the advisory committee, said the group has been deliberating the issue, gathering extensive information about the different approaches to addressing worker safety in Bangladesh and reaching out to various stakeholders to get their perspectives.
"The recent events in Bangladesh and the institutional responses they have spawned bring to light the importance of one of the very core elements of the U-M Code of Conduct, namely worker safety and health," said Anupindi, faculty director for the Master of Supply Chain Management Program, the David B. Hermelin Professor of Business Administration and professor of operations management.
The committee also recommends outreach to licensees to make them aware of this requirement and additional education and advocacy on worker safety throughout the global supply chain.
"President Coleman is taking an absolutely necessary step by requiring the University of Michigan’s licensees to sign on to the accord," said Maya Menlo, an undergraduate student on the advisory committee.
"United Students Against Sweatshops Local #17 is pleased that President Coleman has recognized that signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is currently the most effective action that licensees can take to ensure adequate working conditions in Bangladeshi factories, and now requires licensees to do so. This is an important step by U-M to uphold the values of human rights and worker justice to which our university ascribes."
Coleman added that since the climate and conditions regarding worker safety in Bangladesh are fluid and evolving, she encourages the committee to monitor the progress of the accord and other worker safety initiatives in Bangladesh so the university can periodically revisit whether this measure is proving effective.
U-M is the 10th university to add the accord to the institution's licensing requirements. Others include: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Georgetown University, New York University, Pennsylvania University, Temple University and Pennsylvania State University.