Fighting for Honduran Rights

Norma Castellanos fought through tears Wednesday evening as she shared her experience as a Honduran worker in a Russell Athletic factory with a group of 50 University students.

The event was sponsored by Step Up Oregon, the University chapter of the United Students Against Sweatshops, and is part of a national tour that works to motivate universities to drop contracts with Russell Athletic unless the sportswear company agrees to re-open its factory in Honduras and allow workers to unionize.

The event began with a march to Director of Marketing and Brand Management Matt Dyste’s office to deliver a letter written by Honduran workers that begged the University to suspend its trademark agreement with Russell Athletic.

Dyste said the University is aware of the controversy surrounding Russell, but has not decided whether to terminate the contract with Russell Athletic when it ends in June.

“We have been informed of the situation, but at this time the University is not making any decisions,” he said.

The Duck Store issued a statement Friday stating it would suspend placing new orders with Russell Athletic until more information could be obtained about the claims made against the company.

“We have a few things left in the store,” said Natalie Eggert, Duck Store human resources manager. “However, we are not going to order anything else until we seriously investigate this case.”

Russell Athletic closed two plants in Choloma, Honduras after Castellanos and other workers began organizing a union in an effort to obtain health care, child care and better working conditions.

Castellanos said harsh conditions including working 11-hour days with only a 10-minute break, unrealistic production expectations from managers, and the deteriorating health of many workers who worked with chemical dyes were all reasons for her to work toward unionizing.

“Our voices were not being heard,” she said. “We made a decision to unite. We kept it private, but Russell laid off 150 workers when they found out and threatened us with death.”

The Workers Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association issued reports citing human rights violations in the factories. Rod Palmquist, international campaigns coordinator for the United Students Against Sweatshops, said students can take steps to end sweatshop abuses by applying pressure to the University to immediately terminate its contract with Russell Athletics.

“The University of Oregon is no stranger to controversy on issues like these. Students can make an impact,” he said.

In 2000 the University joined the Workers Rights Consortium, a
group of universities that agreed to not license their trademarks to any company that does not seek to expand worker’s rights. But the Oregon University System decided in 2001 that the University could not be a part of the consortium because it limited the University’s autonomy.

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