By Harrison Howe
A (Silver) Star is Born
Jerry Jones, billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, recently looked to expand his fortune when he entered the college apparel market. Last year the Jones family began Silver Star Merchandising, Ltd., headed by Jones' son, Jerry Jones Jr. In May 2011, the company scored a touchdown when it signed a 10-year deal to manufacture, license and distribute off-field sports apparel for the University of Southern California (USC).
In September, it seemed the company might score again when it entered talks with Ohio State University (OSU) to reach a multi-million dollar deal with that institution. All, it seemed, was going well for this promising new player in the field of college athletic wear.
But it seems the defense for the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is stiffening. The student organization, founded in 1997 and consisting of chapters at more than 250 higher education institutions throughout the United States, essentially keeps a close eye on the conditions of factories across the globe that manufacture apparel for colleges and universities.
And they've thrown a penalty flag at Silver Star.
Unfavorable Conditions on the Field
USAS is pointing to three factories used by Silver Star that have what Natalie Yoon, president of the organization's OSU chapter, called 'egregious sweatshop violations', according to The New York Times. Two of the shops are located in El Salvador. Contaminated drinking water and workers forced to work overtime were found in one; in the other, reports of union supporters being spied on and placed in lower-paying positions. And at an Indonesian factory used by Silver Star, nearly 3,000 employees were left without owed severance pay when owners abruptly closed up shop and fled.
So what is USAS's game plan? Despite assertions from Silver Star's chief operating officer, Bill Priakos, that the company has 'a very aggressive code of conduct for all factories representing our brand', it is calling on USC and OSU to stop dealing with the Cowboys subsidiary.
Some USC students, already incensed that the university inked the deal with Silver Star without their knowledge, have begun to confront school officials about USAS's findings. And at OSU, 15 students who are members of the USAS staged an on-campus protest in late September. Brandishing cardboard signs and removing their shirts, the group spoke out against OSU considering a deal with Jones' collegiate merchandising firm.
One protestor said, 'We would rather go naked than wear Dallas Cowboys Merchandising Apparel.'
Is it justified when college coaches make more than college presidents?