Jansport’s Questionable Production

Social aspects of Jansport Production

Jansport is almost as central to many college students’ lives as coffee. Whether students carry their books in Jansport backpacks or show up to class in Jansport sweatpants, the brand makes its mark on college campuses. In PLNU’s bookstore, Jansport products are the store’s second bestselling products, but do PLNU students really know the details behind the brand’s production methods?

Jansport’s website claims their clean and safe factories of production treat the workers well, but their vague Facility Compliance Guidelines and Global Compliance Principles provide no information regarding the details of workers’ compensation. Jansport is a Vanity Fair (VF) Corporation company accredited by the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, which prohibits employee abuse and demands compensation and benefits for employees. Upon further inspection of WRAP’s requirements for accreditation, however, the only requirement for employee compensation is that “facilities [will] pay [their employees] at least the minimum total compensation required by local law, including all mandated wages, allowances & benefits.” “Local law” is the catch phrase here. What are the wage rates required by local law in the countries where VF factories are located?

Although Jansport claims to be transparent and ethically sound, practices in a few of their factories call the company’s bold claims into question.  According to a study by Miami University students, Lesotho, a small country surrounded by South Africa, is home to two factories which produce Jansport products. Although the factories provide Lesotho’s people with much needed work, they do not properly treat employees. The factories help women contribute to their household incomes, but they also force female employees to work much unpaid overtime and fail to accommodate pregnant women.

Other issues have occured in Jakarta Indonesia, which is the location of export processing zones for Jansport’s university apparel. According to a study by the Workers’ Rights Consortium, the factories in this region (the Kawasan Berikat Nusantara region) mistreat employees. Some employees who work in these factories reported that they are afraid to speak up because of frequent and illegal military intervention suppressing employees’ union efforts and strikes. Furthermore, the KBN region factories have a trend of abruptly closing and failing to fulfill their contracts with employees, leaving employees unpaid and without work.

These issues occurring in Jansport’s factories challenge the bold claims on the company’s website, leaving Jansport’s ethics and production methods in question.

Written by: Audrey Hiatt

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Jansport’s Questionable Production

10 thoughts on “Jansport’s Questionable Production

  1. Charles says:

    First off, great article. I always appreciate opportunities to learn more about the company practices that produce our household brands.

    I think that holding companies accountable for forced labor and failing to honor established employee contracts is important. They should be made to operate within the the law.

    That being said, low wages, poor working conditions, and few benefits are the existing point of equilibrium for that labor market. If an employee has voluntarily (whether by desire or desperation isn’t a factor) entered a contract with an employer, the employer should not be required to provide beyond the scope of that contract. Additional legislation, particularly minimum wage related, does not increase the value of the labor to compensate for the added cost, and will throw the labor market out of equilibrium.

    Two possible market solutions to the problem of low wages and poor working conditions are:

    1) Increase consumer awareness through strict third party assessments of production practices.

    2) Stimulate competition in the labor markets in question by promoting ethically responsible companies to set up shop next door.

    As you said, the people depend upon these jobs. So whatever solution you propose make sure it doesn’t drive employers out but instead drives better employers in. For sustainable economic growth, always look for organic market driven solutions before resorting to legislation.

  2. Pamela Kolbas says:

    Thanks for the informative article. I remember that my Jansport backpack was a MUST HAVE item when I was in middle school, but of course at the time I never thought about labor conditions related to the brands I purchased. Being someone who does try and think about that sort of thing now that I’m an adult, I find it particularly frustrating and disturbing that even companies who are accredited as “responsible” in their production and specifically claim “ethical practicles” still treat workers with the above mentioned “industry standard” of completely unjust working conditions. It’s enough to make one despair of ever finding a link between industry and justice.

  3. Jeff says:

    Very informative and well written article. In this consumption based society of ours, we often forget about the price another pays for our comfort.
    I do not know what the solution may be, but certainly exposing the problems and making them public is the place to start.
    I hope you will keep us posted on Jansport in particular.
    Does PLNU plan to continue purchasing these goods knowing of these practices?..
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Dana says:

    I am sad to hear one of my favorite brand names has stepped into the long line of companies that possibly exploit their factory workers. The issue that this article brought to my attention for the first time was the relatively slack guidelines of WRAP. How many other companies are participating in the same shady behavior as Jansport? A company that takes advantage of a local community’s lower prices is not a company I would like to support. This article has sparked a new topic of interest for me and I’m looking forward to hearing more about this.

  5. Clint says:

    Very informative and well written!

    My initial thought is pragmatic- How do we ensure that workers half a world away are protected? To the great misfortune of so many, we have inherited a world characterized by systemic poverty where our relative ease is bought by their extreme discomfort. Paraphrasing Paul Farmer, “The same world that is good and pleasurable for us is absolute hell for them.” It is precisely because this system makes us so comfortable, however, that it is so difficult to mobilize people. I think our greatest enemy is apathy. We try a boycott and soon find ourselves face to face with a collective action problem – how do we mobilize a large enough force to catalyze a change? We all want change, but will we pay more for it? Will we, as a society, give up certain aspects of our lifestyle so that folks we’ve never met can live a decent life? How do you get people to genuinely care enough? Boycotts, market competition, even legislation, all must start with a united will.

    Great article Audrey, the first step is awareness!

  6. Samuel says:

    Interesting. I never realized Jansport was so popular! As a rule I never buy products made by companies that start with the letter ‘J’ – but you bring up a good point about the questionablity of Jansport’s production. I appreciate the specificity of this report as I often only hear general summaries of cases of trans-national economic oppression. It would seem, however, that this specific case is an all too common story – enough so to cause one (myself) to question whether there may be a more fundamental problem with our current global market-state system. In an increasingly intricate and integrated world inundated with information it is imperative that intelligent individuals (such as yourself) incept interesting and insightful inquiries (such as this one).

    -Samuel

  7. Julie says:

    Thank you Audrey for bringing this to the forefront. Spending all of my adult working life as an educator I have seen many Jansport products in the schools. While I am not in favor or the US policing the world; I do think Americans need to be responsible citizens and boycott companies that are not being responsible to their employees. They provide jobs; but at what cost? In a society that has much; we need to be sensitive to the needs of those less fortunate. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will spread the word about this company. The first step is acquiring information. I appreciate what you have done by exposing the downside of Jansport. Well done!

  8. Danielle says:

    Thanks for sharing this Audrey! It was very well written and informative. It is sad how so many companies fall into this category claiming to be responsible, but failing to act responsibly. This is a hard subject, because these workers rely on this income. If we take away their jobs, is this really helping them?

    I think that much of the responsibility for change is dependent upon the consumer. If we are well informed then we should act; which might mean giving up some of our favorite brands.

    The first step is making more people aware of this issue, which this article clearly does. I wonder what PLNU will do to help support this ethical issue.

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