The JanSport Dilemma: Should Fordham Stop Selling JanSport Products?


Ross Hailey

A classic JanSport backpack that is often sold in school bookstores. (Courtesy of Ross Hailey/ Fort Worth Star- telegram via TNS)


As Fordham students, we are taught to cultivate our lives around habits of moral reflection and critical thinking through our Jesuit education. For many students, myself included, buying clothing items in the bookstore has not always spurred an ethical dilemma for me but as of recent, it’s got me wondering. 

Since 2013, the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) organization has been campaigning for universities to require brands producing college-logo apparel to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This is a legally binding contract between workers unions and brands promising greater protection for workers and a voice for unions in addressing deadly working conditions. This campaign is a result of the tragedy in Bangladeshi garment factory, Rana Plaza, that killed over 1,000 workers. According to the USAS, over 100 brands have signed the Accord. Notably missing from this group that includes Arcadia Group, American Eagle Outfitters and Adidas is the VF Corporation. The VF Corporation owns JanSport apparel and is Fordham’s supplier of college-logo apparel.

JanSport and the VF Corporation choose to remain as participants under the Alliance for Bangladeshi Worker Safety (AFBWS). The contract is similar in its written goals to that of the Accord on Building and Fire Safety but is very different in its processes and stipulations for brands. Unlike the rules under the Accord that join employee representatives and companies together in cooperation for safety initiatives, AFBWS is an unilateral corporate initiative that is governed solely by the corporations. Safety inspection practices are also remarkably different under the Alliance. As part of the Accord, safety inspections are done by independent parties fully-versed in new and improved Bangladeshi Building codes every nine months whereas under the Alliance, inspections are not done independently so that brands as companies retain complete control over the inspection process. 

The urgency of this issue is something that the Fordham community cannot deny. Fordham Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies Aimee Cox, weighed in, “As a professor at Fordham who takes very seriously the charge to teach to the whole person, issues around human rights are a frequent topic in all of my classes. Human rights, as we are taught in the Jesuit tradition, are not just evinced through theoretical ideals but actualized through concrete actions that impact the lived, material realities of peoples’ lives across the globe. It is our responsibility as ethical citizens of Fordham University and the world to take action when we can that is morally sound and creates more life-affirming options for those who are most vulnerable in our transnational society. Terminating our contract with the VF Corporation which owns the JanSport apparel sold in our bookstores would be one small, but very powerful, step in this regard.”