SBD/January 9, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

ESPN's OTL Discusses The Intense Criticism Of Cowboys' Apparel Production

Cowboys now producing college apparel and facing criticism for using "sweatshops"
Yesterday’s edition of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” examined the outsourcing of merchandise sports apparel, with a focus on Cowboys apparel, most of which is produced in Third World countries. ESPN’s Mark Fainaru-Wada said the team is now “producing college apparel and facing intense criticism for using what is commonly known as ‘sweatshops.’” United Students Against Sweatshops Int’l Campaigns Coordinator Teresa Cheng said the Cowboys “have never come under public scrutiny for their labor rights violations in their overseas factories until now.” Cowboys Merchandising COO Bill Priakos said the team uses only a “few factories” and the organization “talks to them every day so there’s a lot of personal relationships there so we want to make sure we’re all doing the right thing.” ESPN travelled to a factory in Cambodia and Fainaru-Wada said, “We heard the same stories over and over again, of illegal working conditions, like forced overtime, as well as harassment and abuse by supervisors, all violations of the Cowboys' code (of conduct for overseas factories).” Priakos indicated the Cowboys "employ an independent auditor to regularly monitor and report back on working conditions in overseas factories like those in Cambodia.” Fainaru-Wada said the Cowboys' “critics say other sports apparel companies have dealt with factory violations, but have learned to be more engaged.” Priakos agreed with the suggestion that the Cowboys “have lagged behind on this issue.” He added, “We’re a small company. I don’t have the resources that Nike does … (but) we try to learn from them. We try to learn from everybody. We’re humble like that. We know we can do better.” Fainaru-Wada said a “merchandising person at a major BCS school” told ESPN that, “‘We wouldn’t do business with the Cowboys until we believe they got this’” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 1/8).

TRYING TO GET BUSINESS: ESPN.com’s Fainaru-Wada & Gubar wrote after earlier creating an ancillary company called Silver Star Merchandising, the Cowboys in May “struck a 10-year deal with USC to become the primary licensee of Trojans apparel.” The NFL team now “has its sights set on signing a handful of top-flight college programs.” Priakos said, “I think that we will definitely sign new schools in the future. … I think that this model kind of maxes out around 10.” Priakos has “been in talks with Ohio State for more than a year, trying to convince the Buckeyes to sign on, but those efforts have been muddied by student protests and media attention on the Cowboys' practices.” Ohio State Students Against Sweatshops said a deal with the Cowboys would be "a huge step backwards in the university's efforts to end sweatshop abuse in our college gear supply chain." From “labor rights organizations to representatives of other major brands, from licensing directors at big-time colleges to academics who have studied this issue for years, the message was the same: Violations are everywhere, it's the reality of the business, and no one has denied that for years.” Penn State Assistant Professor Mark Anner, who is the coordinator of the school's Project for Global Workers' Rights, said, “I feel like we're going back in time 15, 20 years. I've been researching, examining, looking at this industry for close to 20 years now, and I would have to say that's impossible. I've looked at auditing reports where I've seen, perhaps on average, 18 violations per factory. So problems, violations are extremely common” (ESPN.com, 1/7).
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