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OSU students pressure Hargis for openness about worker’s rights

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Cowboys for Justice

A WRC contract would shine light on the conditions of factories that make OSU merchandise.   

Oklahoma State University is making an effort to become more transparent about the production process of official OSU apparel.

On Friday, President Burns Hargis approved a contract with the Workers Rights Consortium, a labor monitoring organization that investigates and reports on working conditions around the globe.

After OSU signs the contract, the WRC will report on working conditions for all of the companies the university has licenses with. The university works with popular brand names such as Nike, Under Armour, JanSport, Russell Athletic and Ping.

Cowboys for Social Justice, a student coalition, and more than 15 other student groups have been lobbying for weeks to get the contract approved.

Cowboys for Social Justice member Nadir Nibras said he believes it’s important for students and staff to know where official OSU clothing comes from and the working conditions of employees. This includes, but is not limited to, official OSU apparel sold on campus.

“Working conditions in some factories are terrible,” Nibras said. “This contract will let the public know exactly what the conditions are like in companies affiliated with OSU.”

To join the WRC, OSU will annually pay 1 percent of all licensing fees up to $50,000. The university receives fees from its 550 licensees.

The university’s licensing fees are used to fund some student scholarships and athletic programs, OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt said.

“We do understand the students’ rationale and recommendation that the university sign an agreement with the WRC,” Shutt said. “The university has been considering the benefits of signing the WRC agreement for some time.”

During a meeting with administrators last week, members of Cowboys for Social Justice suggested this affiliation fee be taken from funds allocated to athletic programs rather than from student scholarships.

More than 180 colleges and universities are affiliated with the WRC, including University of Oklahoma and University of Texas at Austin, according to the WRC’s website.

Because of contracts with other colleges and universities, the WRC already reports on 88 percent of OSU’s licensees. In the meeting, students voiced concerns that it’s unfair for the university to reap the benefits of the WRC without helping fund the organization.

Cowboys for Social Justice hopes that by making working condition reports available to students and staff, members of the OSU community will stand up to any poor working conditions reflected in the reports. The group has asked that administrators make the affiliation with the WRC official by the end of the month.

“Me wearing rags isn’t going to fix the problem,” Nibras said. “But if we band together as a university, it can really make a difference.”