By  on September 25, 2013

WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO and United Students Against Sweatshops said Wednesday they have established a national partnership to collaborate on global solidarity campaigns, including ensuring safer working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry in the wake of two apparel factory tragedies that have claimed the lives of over 1,200 workers.

Combining forces, the nation’s largest union federation and largest youth-led campaign organization hope to have a broader outreach to improve working conditions in global industries, such as the garment industry, improve standards for university campus workers and protect the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining for workers around the world.

“The labor movement shares USAS’ values and vision for global solidarity and social justice,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “Together, we are stronger and better positioned to meet the mutual goals and objectives of improving the lives of working people.”

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USAS has affiliated locals on more than 150 campuses that run local and national campaigns seeking corporate accountability and turning the spotlight on poor working conditions, worker abuse and safety issues in the overseas garment factories where much collegiate apparel is produced.

“Whether it’s supporting Bangladeshi workers’ demand for safe workplaces or opposing [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker’s attacks on public workers, it’s clear that our struggles are bound together,” said Lingran Kong, a member of USAS’ Coordinating Committee and a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lingran said one of her organization’s biggest campaigns this year involves pressuring university presidents and chancellors to change their codes of conduct to require all collegiate licensees to adhere to improving safety and conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry by signing the binding IndustriALL Global Union-led Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The accord has been signed by 87 retailers and apparel brands.

The Worker Rights Consortium estimates that more than 40 collegiate apparel brands source apparel from Bangladesh.

“The Rana Plaza [collapse] opened our eyes to how bad and rampant unsafe factories are,” Kong said. “One of the most basic rights people should have is to not have to perform unsafe work. With Rana, when workers went in and saw cracks in the building, they didn’t have a mechanism to refuse to work. That is why we have taken on this campaign.”

Kong said she chairs the university’s Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee and plans to meet with University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank on Thursday, following a letter the Student Labor Action Coalition sent to Blank outlining systemic building and fire safety problems in Bangladesh, and imploring her to require collegiate licensees to sign onto the Bangladesh accord.

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