Committee endorses WRC membership

by Travis Reed

The University took its first major step last week toward preventing the use of sweatshops in the production of Golden Gopher apparel.
In a recommendation to the University’s Fair Labor Task Force, the Senate Social Concerns Committee unanimously suggested the school affiliate with the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent labor-monitoring organization comprised of human-rights groups and labor unions.
The endorsement follows a similar nationwide trend, as an increasing number of schools abandon Fair Labor Association membership and throw support behind the consortium.
In the first meeting since last month’s public forum on the sweatshop issue, the task force spoke in favor of WRC affiliation and appointed a subcommittee to draft a recommendation for University President Mark Yudof.
Ttask-force member and committee chairman George French said he expects the task-force recommendation, which will be completed within a few weeks, to advocate conditional WRC membership similar to stances adopted by Big Ten neighbors University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Michigan and Indiana University.
Since last spring, the task force has been assembled to evaluate the Fair Labor Association, the product of a 1997 White House mandate to address sweatshop-monitoring needs, and the WRC. Nationwide, student activists have pushed for WRC membership and criticized the FLA for allegedly being managed by corporate interests.
The task-force members are proceeding on a rapid time line because many members would like to see a resolution before the consortium’s April 7 charter meeting.
French said the February forum played a key role in the committee’s decision to recommend WRC membership.
“We heard loud and clear not to join the Fair Labor Association, that it was inappropriate at this point to do nothing, and it was virtually a unanimous conclusion that we should join the WRC,” French said.
Although task-force members are eager to put the issue at rest, they said the judgment still deserves careful consideration and are reticent about recommending FLA membership solely on the merits of its current popularity.
“I think the U of M has to make a decision here. I don’t think we’re going to do this as a popular vote,” said Mark Rotenberg, task-force chairman and University general counsel. “We’re not going to simply add up the number or names of institutions that are engaged in membership of one or the other organization and make a decision that way.”
Regardless of the recommendation’s content and the status of the issue after it hits Yudof’s desk, task-force members said they intend to send University representation to the founding WRC meeting in New York early next month.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at tree[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.