Apparel supplier dropped

Sheila Burt

A licensed manufacturer of Northwestern apparel facing allegations of worker discrimination had to stop producing goods this week.

Lands End, Inc., which owns a factory in El Salvador, cannot produce any apparel with NU logos since their contract expired Saturday and was not renewed, said Brian Peters, director of university services. The company can continue to sell the merchandise if it were manufactured before the contract expired.

“All of our licensees know that we have a code of conduct and we expect them to comply with it,” Peters said. “So when we find out (they don’t) comply, we want to know why and how long it takes to resolve it.”

Peters did not know how long Lands’ End had had a license from NU but said it was not a large supplier for the university.

Issues surrounding the company’s El Salvador factory began in March, after the Worker Rights Consortium released a report about practices at the factory, Primo SA de CV, NU and other universities are members of the Workers Rights Consortium, which enforces university manufacturing codes of conduct.

The university sent a letter regarding the issue to Lands’ End in May and decided not to renew the contract about a month ago, Peters said.

According to their report, “Primo has engaged in the systematic blacklisting of workers who are or are perceived to be trade unionists.”

Scott Nova, executive director of the consortium, said he is discussing their concerns with officials at Sears, Roebuck and Co., which purchased Lands’ End in June 2002.

Although Nova declined to discuss the matter in specific terms because of ongoing talks, he said he hopes they reach a resolution soon.

Lands’ End could not be reached for comment, but Peters said they have indicated they are “working with a contractor to become compliant with (NU’s) code of conduct.”

“Once that happens we will reconsider allowing them to use the university trademarks,” said Peters, adding that the issue could be resolved in three to six months.

Peters said members of the Fair Labor Association and Worker Rights Consortium will provide feedback to NU to decide if Lands’ End will be recontracted.

Despite the change, students most likely will not notice any difference in apparel at NU stores because the the university licenses dozens of manufacturers, Peters said. Even officials at the bookstore said they did not know of any Lands’ End apparel had been sold there.

But for one student group, the restrictions imposed by NU represent a significant stance for social justice made by the university.

“In the grand scheme, it’s about doing what we can as students and as an institution to improve working conditions for people in places where working conditions are chronically violated,” said Britt Gordon-McKeon, a Weinberg senior and member for Students for Economic Justice.

Gordon-McKeon and other members of the group e-mailed administrators about the issue in the spring and recently met with Peters to discuss other labor issues related to a laundry service NU uses.

She also said the group is working to create a student-faculty labor-issues committee. The committee is in the planning stage, she said, after Associated Student Government passed a bill in the spring calling for its creation.

“The idea (is) that the university does need to be ethical in our business practices and not support labor violations,” she said. “We need to involve the whole community.”