7/26/14: National day of action against REI

On this Saturday, students across the United States are asking you to join them in a national day of actions at outlets of REI, a sporting goods chain.  In places like Rockville, Maryland (see below) or Seattle, Washington, they will be asking REI to do its part to support worker safety in Bangladesh.

In order to understand why students are protesting REI, we need to follow the money from Rockville and Seattle to Dhaka and Narayanganj in Bangladesh.


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The graphic above shows the path of the cash which leaves the consumers’ hand for the registers of REI.   REI, in turn, pays Greensboro-NC-based VF Corporation for the backpacks, pants, sleeping bags, and other goods it stocks.  VF Corporation, in turn, has contracted out the work to produce its goods to factories in Bangladesh like Medlar Apparels and Optimum Fashion (pdf).  Finally, these factories have pushed their  workers, for extremely low pay and long hours, to produce the goods on time and with sufficient quality; in exchange the workers receive a very small percentage of the total cost the consumer paid.

Bangladesh’s garment industry is experiencing a crisis in terms of building safety and other, very basic measures of worker well being.  This crisis was concretized in the collapse of Rana Plaza, a multistory building where over 1,100 workers died in April 2013.

There are two main efforts right now to try to establish basic conditions like ‘the building won’t burn down’ in Bangladesh’s garment sector.  The first is the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which, according to USAS, is a legally binding agreement between brands and legitimate representatives of workers in Bangladesh.  Importantly, the Accord includes unionizing and other worker organizing into the basic framework for improving building safety; as such, it recognizes that worker organizing is important not just in and of itself, but also vital for ensuring that worker concerns about building safety are heard.

The alternative to the Accord is a company sponsored effort called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.  The Alliance is an initiative spearheaded primarily by American corporations like Wal-Mart and lacks the teeth that the Accord has.  Most importantly, it does not have the same practical commitment to the importance of worker organizing.

Back to this Saturday.  What USAS is asking consumers–asking you to do –is  to use the leverage that you have over REI by requesting that REI remove VF Corporation’s goods from its shelves.  If successful, this would put further pressure on VF Corporation to sign up to the stronger measure, the Accord, and thus lend support to active worker organizing efforts in Bangladesh by legitimate representatives.

It may sound complicated, but it boils down to a very simple fact: in that diagram above, the consumers are the only group of people besides the workers themselves that can be reliably asked to take the side of labor.  If you can, show up at an REI near you to support Bangladeshi workers on Saturday.  Here’s the announcement for the DC area action:

Take Action at REI in Rockville, MD to End Deathtrap Working Conditions in Bangladesh

Who: United Students Against Sweatshops, the nation’s largest student-run organization supporting workers rights, and YOU!

What: Since 2005, more than 1,800 garment workers have died in preventable factory fires and building collapses in Bangladesh. In the wake of these disasters and in the face of massive pressure from consumers, over 175 apparel brands have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally-binding agreement between brands and unions that holds the promise of bringing an end to mass fatality disasters in the garment industry.

Unfortunately, North Face its parent company, VF Corporation, have refused to sign this groundbreaking agreement. Instead, the company has teamed up with its buddies from Walmart to create a fake safety program that excludes workers and is not legally binding.

Students and consumers are taking action at REI stores to demand that the company pull all North Face products from its shelves unless VF signs the Accord. Unfortunately, just this month REI said that it would not cut ties with North Face or meet with students to discuss the company’s human rights abuses. Now we’re stepping up the pressure to show REI that our demands can’t be ignored.

When: 12:30pm, Saturday, July 26th

Where: 1701 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852

Washington DC Action: Rally Against Dow Chemicals, June 24, 2014

Most people have heard at some point of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, 30 years ago.  Tens of thousands of people were scarred.  Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide, is resisting calls to follow a summons issued by an Indian court.

Here is the call to action in Washington, DC at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 1776 I Street NW:


Urge Dow Chemicals to Respect Criminal Summons for Bhopal Gas Leak Deaths

Please join Amnesty International to rally on Tuesday (24th) outside DOW Chemicals in Washington DC to urge them to respect a Criminal Summons for Bhopal Chemical leak deaths. The Court have summoned DOW to appear on July 4, 2014 for a hearing in Bhopal, India.Tens of thousands of victims of one of world’s worst industrial disaster – the 1984 catastrophic gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India – are still waiting for justice. Thousands died and even after 30 years over 150,000 people are still battling chronic health problems.Background:

DOW Chemicals bought Union Carbide in 2001.
A court in Bhopal issued a criminal summons to Dow Chemicals to appear on July 4, 2014 for this case.
Urge DOW Chemical to respect this summons and appear before the Court.

The gas leak, which occurred 30 years ago killed between 7,000 and 10,000 people in three days and further 15,000 are believed to have died over the following years.

There are still close to 150,000 people battling chronic health problems. Over 40,000 people are still living next to the factory, and have been exposed to the toxic waste for the last 30 years.

The site has never been properly cleaned and continues to poison the residents of Bhopal.

The industrial skeleton of the former Union Carbide factory today still lies abandoned in the center of Bhopal, with more than 350 tons of toxic waste untreated inside.