U officials plan to regulate collegiate-licensed products

by Coralie Carlson

Several schools recently learned they sold sweatshop-produced gear. Some University officials now want to join the nationwide trend of creating policies to prevent it from happening here.
The universities of Duke, Brown and Notre Dame adopted policies this spring ensuring merchandise bearing school logos wasn’t produced by exploited labor. Currently no policy exists at the University. But some school officials, with encouragement from federal lawmakers, have jumped on the bandwagon.
Collegiate-licensed products comprise an annual $2 billion market, leaving administrators ample reason for concern. Knowingly or not, some schools already sell products created in sweatshops.
The Korean-based BJ&B company manufactures baseball caps in a sweatshop in the Dominican Republic, according to a study by the Union of Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees. Many schools carried the caps, some of which displayed the Champion logo.
University officials said they don’t do business with BJ&B.
More problems followed when allegations surfaced that Nike exploited workers in southeast Asia. Officials from Duke, a Nike-endorsed school, felt pressure to implement a code of conduct for licensed products.
“It was getting a little warm down there in Durham, North Carolina,” said Bob Hicks, director of University licensing and athletic properties. Hicks, who recently returned from a nationwide meeting of officials discussing sweatshop measures, is spearheading the University’s efforts.
The code of conduct Duke officials implemented in March prohibits child and forced labor as well as discrimination. The plan limits employees to a 48-hour work week and requires compliance with local wage regulations.
Administrators from Brown and Notre Dame quickly followed with similar policies. Other colleges are following suit.
“Most of the schools are in the embryonic stage in dealing with this issue,” said Hicks.
Hicks met with Duke officials in May to gather information for the University’s own code. School officials hope to begin discussing a policy for the college’s 300 licensees in mid-June. He said he did not know when a policy would be in effect.
The challenge doesn’t end at implementation. Hicks said enforcing the code provides another hurdle.
Administrators from Brown agreed. Universities can’t send employees throughout the world to ensure producers meet school regulations, said Mark Nickel, director of the news bureau at Brown University.
Nickel said he hopes an independent company eventually steps in to assist in monitoring foreign manufacturers and easing enforcement. Until then, schools must rely on vendors to report violations.
Even locating the original production sight of a sweat shirt or baseball cap is often challenging.
“God knows where it could really come from,” said James Snyder, a representative for Rep. George Miller, a crusader against sweatshops.
In 1996, the California Democrat revealed that exploited Honduran laborers were producing Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line. During this session, Miller backed legislation that would enforce federal labor and wage standards in U.S. territories.
Miller’s latest amendment also suggests colleges adopt a merchandise code of conduct addressing minimum wage, child labor, worker unionization rights and safety and health standards.
He added the measure to the Higher Education Act, which spells out financial aid policies and federal funding for colleges for the next five years. The bill, passed by the House earlier this month, now awaits approval in the Senate and the president’s signature.
The legislation does not require any action. It merely brought the issue to the attention of university administrators.
“It’s putting the moral face of our elected representatives behind a position we believe in,” Snyder said.