Licensees That Produce Duke Apparel in Bangladesh Required to Sign Safety Accord

Duke is taking steps to ensure Bangladesh factories making university-logo apparel follows new safety standards. Photo by Angela Bowling/Duke University Stores

Duke University is expanding its licensing policy to require all licensees to sign and abide by the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh for the manufacturing of Duke-logo goods in that country, school officials said Wednesday.

The decision reflects concern at Duke over risks to the safety of apparel workers in Bangladesh, the world's second-leading producer of apparel, they said. More than 1,250 people have died in factory disasters in Bangladesh during the past year.

The accord calls for competent, independent safety inspections at factories; repairs and renovations where needed to make factories safe; and a strong role for workers in improving factories' safety practices. It has been signed by nearly 100 brands and retailers from 19 countries, including many of the apparel industry's biggest companies, and also is supported by international labor and non-governmental organizations.

"Duke has a deep and abiding commitment to ensuring that our logo apparel is produced safely and responsibly," said Tallman Trask III, Dukes executive vice president. "That's why we support the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which is the strongest and most credible program to protect workers in garment factories from the danger of fires and building collapses. Effective immediately, Duke is expanding our licensing policy to require all licensees to sign and abide by the accord for the manufacturing of Duke-logo goods in Bangladesh. We believe this is a fair and reasonable requirement that will help foster a safe and secure workplace, and we will be working with licensees to implement this policy as soon as possible."

The decision is the latest in a series of actions by the university over the past two decades to ensure safe facilities and fair labor standards at factories that produce its logo apparel. Duke has been an active participant in the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights monitoring organization that helped develop and launch the safety accord for Bangladesh.

Jim Wilkerson, Duke's director of trademark licensing and stores operations and a long-term board member of the Worker Rights Consortium, said he is "proud that Duke is helping lead the way on the most urgent labor rights problem facing the university apparel business. With this step, Duke will contribute to a safer apparel industry for workers in Bangladesh."

Wilkerson praised Duke students Zoe Willingham and Zaynah Alam, co-organizers of Duke United Students Against Sweatshops, for making a compelling case for the new requirement, which Willingham described as "a huge step forward in the fight for safer and more humane jobs worldwide. I am thrilled that our university has stepped up and decided to continue its legacy of enforcing just manufacturing practices."