Today, student activists at Ohio State University are celebrating a major victory after the university denied a single-source apparel contract to Silver Star Merchandising, a subsidiary of the Dallas Cowboys, which has been embroiled in an international scandal over its workers rights violations across the globe.
The OSU chapter of USAS built a coalition of student groups across campus, as well as faculty and community members, which came together to urge the administration to not sign a monopoly apparel deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Student action escalated in November when students held a fifty person roving occupation of the offices of President Gordon Gee and Vice President Joseph Alutto, and publicly confronted Gee at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting.
“After 540 days of student campaigning, I am so glad the administration finally took a stand for workers rights and rejected the Cowboys. This is indisputably what our University should be doing — setting an example of global responsibility for its students and for the global community,” said Danya Contractor, an OSU junior and OSU USAS organizer. “All the actions we did on campus to buck the Cowboys have really made a difference. We were planning to escalate our actions further, but now we plan on following up to make sure OSU’s new apparel supplier, J. America, will respect its workers rights across the globe.”
Several investigative reports have called out the The Dallas Cowboys as a serial abuser of human rights, complicit in severe retaliation against workers in their factories. Recently in Bangladesh at the Dada Dhaka factory, management was caught making threats of violence against union supporters, and in El Salvador at Ocean Sky, the plant is surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by guards armed with shotguns. In addition, students worked with ESPN and the New York Times to expose a bid-rigging scheme, orchestrated by Gee and his licensing director, Rick Van Brimmer, to secretly hand over the monopoly licensing deal to the Cowboys last year.
Students’ victory for human rights at the OSU will not go unnoticed by other universities who are considering a contract with the Dallas Cowboys. “We hope OSU’s actions send a clear message to other schools that if they really take social responsibility seriously, they, too, should deny any and all apparel deals to the Dallas Cowboys. This is a human rights issue and our universities should take the lead,” said Contractor.
Though students are thrilled that Ohio State’s administration has acceded to their demands of disqualifying the Dallas Cowboys, their work will not end here. Students are already assessing how best to stand up for human rights under the new single-source model, which they have also opposed. “The new monopoly deal can act as a way for the university to avoid accountability,” said OSU junior Timothy Singratsomboune, “but students and the community know the university is still fully responsible to the workers making Buckeye apparel. We have taken major action before, and we’re not afraid to do it again to support human rights.”