U, WRC must make conduct code work

Finally the University is backing up its two-year membership in the Worker’s Rights Consortium with a code of conduct that will make the membership worthwhile. When University President Mark Yudof signed the trademark licensee code of conduct Tuesday, he put teeth into the University’s stance against sweatshop labor.

The University joined the WRC in 2000 after widespread student protests against labor used to manufacture University apparel, but full membership was not attained until the code was signed Tuesday. Without it, WRC membership meant nothing. Companies licensed to produce University apparel were aware of University disapproval of such employment practices, but there were no written standards they were forced to uphold. Many other large universities have similar codes, and they are successful.

The University has solidified its commitment; now, the duty lies with the WRC. It should take the initiative to police these companies, enforcing company compliance with code standards and ensuring those who do not comply lose their contracts. If the WRC drops the ball now, it will have turned a useful movement into just another disgruntled group whose power stops at its own picket line.

The rules for those manufacturing University apparel are meticulously outlined in the code. It demands that companies adhere to the laws of the country where apparel is produced, provide workers with reasonable pay and benefits and provide decent working conditions. Interestingly, in addition to simply demanding licensed companies protect basic worker health and safety, the code outlines standards regarding reproductive health, forcing companies to provide female workers with maternity leave and safe working conditions, and banning forced pregnancy tests or contraceptive use. All licensees are required to provide the University with a written agreement to comply with the code, and those who violate the code will have their contracts terminated.

Making sure violators are spotted, however, is the next hurdle in ensuring all labor used by licensees is legitimate. This means the WRC must now step up to the plate and convert its protests and reports into actions. Both Yudof and University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg have expressed their doubts as to the WRC’s ability to efficiently perform this task, but if the code and the University’s membership in the WRC are to mean anything, the WRC must prove Yudof and Rotenberg wrong. It took countless hours of protest by students, faculty and others to get these employment standards put in writing, and it would be pitiable if these efforts were in vain.

The University’s actions to prevent sweatshop labor are admirable, and those who took part in efforts to bring these actions about have achieved a great victory with the code. All that is necessary now is WRC action, and continued student support of such codes.