Anyone walking through the Diag Monday would have seen several students lying on the ground. Fortunately, they hadn’t succumbed to the harsh weather — they were only playing dead.
United Students Against Sweatshops held a “die-in” to symbolize the work-related deaths of thousands of Bangladeshi factory workers. Their goal was to pressure University President Mary Sue Coleman to require the University’s licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which would ensure facilities that produce Michigan-branded apparel comply with fire safety code.
USAS members lay on their backs for 30 minutes, while LSA sophomore Ryne Menhennick, LSA sophomore Sorin Panainte and Public Policy junior Maya Menlo spoke about factory conditions.
Most of the University’s apparel is manufactured in unsafe factories in Bangladesh, Menhennick said. These factories have exposed boiler rooms, non-enclosed staircases and insufficient signage near fire escapes.
“The president’s office has indicated that she is concerned about the state of Bangladeshi workers, but that concern has yet to transition into action,” Panainte told passerbys.
Menlo said in an interview that the main goal of the protest is to persuade Coleman to add a rule to the University Code of Conduct for Licensees — which governs how licensees like Adidas produce University merchandise — requiring them to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
More than 100 brands have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, including H&M and Abercrombie and Fitch. Duke University has also required their licensees to sign the accord.
Menhennick said students ought to be more aware of the factories that manufacture their maize-and-blue apparel. He added that students should not disparage the welfare of laborers outside U.S. borders.
“If this was in the U.S., we wouldn’t stand for it,” Menhennick said.
The die-in was one of several recent USAS events directed toward Coleman and students concerning the unsafe working conditions of factories in Bangladesh. Past events include a vigil commemorating the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 and Workout for Worker’s Rights.
A letter will be sent to Coleman to brief her on the die-in event Menlo said.
Coleman wrote a letter to Adidas in October 2012 expressing concerns about the company’s mishandling of severance payments for over 2,700 workers at a bankrupt supplier.
In April of this year, Adidas agreed to pay the employees the remaining severance pay they were entitled to.
Menhennick said signing the accord is a small step in ensuring safe factory conditions worldwide. If manufacturers in Bangladesh sign the accord, others will follow.
“Bangladeshi workers are endangered every single day when they enter their places of employment, and that’s just unfair,” Menlo said. “If we have the chance to change that, we should as a university.”