This article was originally published as part of a weekly series in the student-run Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
On April 24 of last year, more than 100 workers died in a factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was one of the most deadly factory disasters in history, and one of three that happened in Bangladesh last year alone. “That was the event that really drew the world’s attention and started workers in Bangladesh demanding that something change. And they gained a lot of support around the world for that.”
Junior Olivia Abrecht got involved with Student Action with Workers, a group that works in solidarity with workers connected to UNC, her freshman year. “Worker’s rights had always been something that I was passionate about.” After the factory disaster last April, Student Action with Workers began raising awareness of the problem around campus, as a large amount of UNC apparel is produced in Bangladeshi factories. The group also met various times with the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, a group comprised of representatives from around campus that makes recommendations to the chancellor pertaining to UNC’s licensees.
“[The committee] has assured us that they will be making a recommendation to the chancellor by the end of spring break.” This recommendation should lead to a commitment to ensure no workers are killed in factories that produce UNC apparel. Abrecht is hopeful the committee will support a move to require all UNC licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would require safer building standards in factories and give workers more rights.
“I think there’s significant support on the committee to require that our licensees sign the accord. [Many] members on the committee feel that this not only is something that [UNC] should do because it’s a human rights issue and it’s going save people lives—they also think it’s a really good decision because UNC doesn’t want to have there be a factory disaster in Bangladesh where UNC shirts are found. That’s not good for the University.” Student Action with Workers has heard accounts of Bangladeshi workers being beaten if they raise concerns about their safety.
“At the end of the day, you want to be able to be proud of the University you go to and you want to be able to wear a Carolina sweatshirt. There is a person who made it who should be able to speak up for him or herself.”