In Kenya, the activists say, 1,200 factory workers making Jones Apparel Group Inc. clothing were fired in June when they protested after a coworker was beaten by his boss. Then the subcontractor closed the plant.
In Guatemala, 22 employees trying to form a union in a plant making Jones Apparel Group clothing lost their jobs in October, the activists allege.
Yesterday, a handful of student activists accompanied by some seasoned labor leaders visited Jones' headquarters in Bristol, Bucks County, at the invitation of the company's chief counsel, Ira Dansky. They also met Ida DeColli, human resources executive vice president.
"I think they did take it seriously by having us meet with high-ranking officials," said Michael Hachey, a University of North Carolina senior and an organizer with United Students Against Sweatshops.
"We've put a lot of pressure on the company publicly," said Hachey, who visited Kenyan workers last summer. he said Jones "responded by having a meeting with decision makers, but they are denying they have responsibility."
Hachey said Dansky insisted that Jones' influence over its subcontractors was limited, but Hachey disagreed.
Dansky did not allow a reporter in the meeting. "I have no comment about the substance of the meeting," he said in a follow-up phone call yesterday.
A spokesman said the company had a subcontractor-monitoring and -remediation program "to address conditions that do not meet our factory standards" and would advocate for "the workers involved."
Jones' brands include Jones New York, Easy Spirit, Nine West, GLO Jeans, Evan Picone and Gloria Vanderbilt. The students said Dansky told them that Jones uses more than 1,000 factories worldwide.
The students said they were heartened that Dansky pledged to meet with them again in a month. The students want Jones to have the Kenya factory reopened and to pay severance to any of the 1,200 unemployed workers who do not return to the factory. They want Jones to force the Guatemala factory to rehire the union workers.
Jones' Web site lists standards for contractors: They must follow local overtime laws, provide a rest day, and not use child labor. Workers must be allowed to "join organizations of their own choice" without fear.
Most of the students at the Jones meeting came from Ursinus College in Collegeville. They were enlisted by French major Dina Yarmus of Philadelphia, a regional coordinator of the group.
Based in Washington and founded in 1997, United Students Against Sweatshops sends students abroad to investigate labor issues. Allied with the AFL-CIO, the student group pushes apparel firms to improve working conditions. It also pressures colleges to buy college gear from non-sweatshop suppliers.
Joining the students yesterday were Thomas Bates, president of the Bucks Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and other union leaders.