Recent allegations of unfair labor practices against Russell Athletic, which provides the apparel for Tech’s athletic teams, have led a number of universities to end their licensing agreements with the company. Tech, on the other hand, provided a weak statement that mirrored the company’s faint response to the controversy.
If proven true, the charges that Russell closed down a Honduras factory largely as a result of the formation of a labor union do not just have the potential to hurt Russell’s reputation (which has already taken a hit following cancelled contracts with 18 universities, including Duke, Michigan and the University of Miami). Being on the other end of what a Russell executive termed the company’s “premier relationship,” Tech has a responsibility to demand that the company publically investigate the reasons that led to the closing of the Honduras factory rather than hide behind a brief statement. The reputation of the Institute is also at stake as major publications like the AJC, New York Times and USA Today cover the story.
The evidence suggesting improper business practices is strong. If the company is indeed guilty of the accusations, it should acknowledge the truth and amend its practices as swiftly as possible. Russell is not the first high-profile apparel company to come under public scrutiny for labor rights violations. When Nike experienced a similar scandal, it addressed the claims and made far-reaching and highly visible changes to its production model.
Further, there has been no statement from Tech condoning these practices, contrasting the many other universities who have spoken out. Also contrasting with other campuses around the nation, Tech students have remained almost conspicuously quiet on the subject. By staying silent, how will Tech be capable of “positively influencing the company’s compliance efforts,” as Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich said in a statement?
We understand that Russell, as a long-time, local partner, remains the most economically viable option for the Institute’s needs. However, given the negative publicity being showered on the company, this may be a good time to rethink how the company treats its workers abroad, as well as its business partners back home.
The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the
Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.