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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Students Continue Anti-Adidas Campaign


At this point, USAS has plans to “keep increasing the pressure until he gives in to our demands,” but Godfrey wouldn’t say what tactics the group would try next. “We can’t really disclose our whole campaign,” she said, “because then they’ll know what’s coming.”




UMass Boston’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national student group dedicated to anti-sweatshop organizing, tried to deliver a surprise Valentine to Chancellor J. Keith Motley on Feb. 14. USAS member Melissa Godfrey planned to hand him the hand-made note, decorated with a giant construction-paper heart, as he entered a Dean’s List reception in the Ryan Lounge at 2 p.m.

The note asked Motley to honor the rules set forth for UMass Boston as a signee of the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC). Godfrey and approximately twenty other students who are in USAS at UMass Boston believe that the university may not, as a WRC member, engage in business with companies which the WRC has deemed to be in violation of their workers’ rights, including Adidas. Many Adidas products, such as sweatpants and other sportswear, are sold at school stores throughout the UMass system, but Godfrey believes that those products are “all made in 1800 sweatshops around the world.”

While many companies accused of misconduct, such as Coca-Cola, sell their products to UMass Boston students, USAS has a policy of focusing intensive effort on one corporate entity at a time.

In the past, this policy has paid off. In 2009, the multinational Russell Brand tried to prevent workers at Jerzees de Honduras plant from forming a union by closing down the factory. When USAS convinced more than 80 universities to boycott Russell Brand, it reopened Jerzees de Honduras and recognized the union.

Students in USAS at UMass Boston hope for similar success in their campaign against Adidas, which closed a factory in Tangerang, Indonesia, in April 2011. So far, Adidas officials have refused to pay legally-mandated severance to the workers who lost their jobs when the Tangerang plant closed. They have offered food vouchers to ex-employees, but the WRC has issued statements asserting that the voucher system is not an adequate replacement.

According to Godfrey, the staff members in the Procurement Department at UMass Boston told her that eFollett, the owners of the campus bookstore, have a contract with Adidas, but that UMass Boston does not, and that UMass Boston cannot cancel eFollet’s contract.

Godfrey does not believe the university is powerless to make decisions for eFollett. “We know that the Chancellor has the power to approve or disapprove which brands we sell at the university,” she said, adding “President [Robert L.] Caret of the UMass schools has a satellite contract with Adidas” in which UMass Boston is included. In order to divest, Godfrey asserted, Motley would only need to contact Caret and ask him to cancel the contract.

She added that the uniforms worn by UMass Boston sports teams appear to her to have been made by Adidas, but she’s not “100% positive.” Godfrey claims that her research into the sports uniforms has been hampered by the university itself. “There’s a form that you ask for [at the Office of Communications] to release public information,” she said, “and they’re taking their time releasing it.”

It is also unclear whether membership in the WRC obligates the university to boycott organizations that are found by the consortium to have violated workers’ rights. A quick look at the wording of the WRC’s Code of Conduct reveals that “As a condition of being permitted to produce and/or sell Licensed Articles, Licensees must comply with the Code.” But the same code does not explain what a “licensed article” is. The school store does not claim that any of the goods sold by eFollett are “licensed articles,” or advertise UMass Boston’s membership in the WRC.

This wording is vague enough to leave room for debate between USAS and the school’s Procurement Department. The decision to go straight to the Chancellor to resolve the issue was spurred by that debate.

On Dec. 19, 2012, Godfrey and other UMass Boston USAS members tried to hand Motley a letter demanding that UMass Boston divest from Adidas immediately. Unfortunately, according to Godfrey, Motley wasn’t there when the group came by.

“We delivered the note to his secretary,” she told reporters, adding “We asked for him to contact us by the first week of February to make an appointment.” Motley never got in touch. Godfrey stressed that her group is “trying to work with the chancellor…not against him.” But so far UMass Boston’s chapter of USAS has been “completely ignored.”

Godfrey thinks Motley may have been warned about the delivery of the first letter by staff spying on USAS’s internal emails. “We do know that the university can read all emails at UMass Boston, so we realized that some were getting deviated…I think that’s how he knew we were coming.”

Determined not to miss the Chancellor again, UMass Boston USAS decided that this time, Godfrey would attempt to catch Motley on his way into an event. Unfortunately for them, there was a mix-up, and Motley did not attend the reception on Valentine’s Day. Instead, USAS members took the Valentine to his office, where, Godfrey told reporters, they were informed that the Chancellor “was supposedly not in his office.”

At this point, USAS has plans to “keep increasing the pressure until he gives in to our demands,” but Godfrey wouldn’t say what tactics the group would try next. “We can’t really disclose our whole campaign,” she said, “because then they’ll know what’s coming.”

University officials were unavailable for comment.