Apparel code of conduct approved

K.C. Howard

University President Mark Yudof approved the University’s first trademark licensing code of conduct Tuesday.

The code comes after two years of campus-wide consultations involving faculty, staff, workers rights organizations and licensing companies.

It will require the many dozens of companies – which pay the University an annual total of $500,000 in trademark fees – to adhere to strict employment standards.

“President Yudof and the Board of Regents feel it’s important for us to clarify what our expectations are in writing,” said Mark Rotenberg, general counsel and chairman of the University’s Licensee Labor Task Force.

Starting Wednesday, the University will notify licensees that they cannot use forced labor, prohibit unionizing, allow more than 12 hours of overtime or discriminate against race or gender to create University apparel.

Companies in contract with the University also cannot hire employees younger than 15, require pregnancy tests as a condition of employment or dismiss women who take maternity leave.

Licensees must submit written assurances that they are in compliance or are taking steps to adhere to the code 60 days before the end of each annual contract.

If a licensee fails to self-correct a code violation, the University can terminate the relationship.

Rotenberg said he is hopeful most companies paying for the University’s logo will respond positively to the requirements.

“Our code is similar in many ways to other large university licensing codes,” Rotenberg said. “These companies that we deal with are aware of what universities expect in the way of workplace codes.”

Brown University lost a contract with Nike in 2000, after school officials approved a code similar to the University’s.

In 1999, Nike paid approximately $10,000 to the University in trademark fees, but the company’s total collegiate trademark expenses are less than 1 percent of its budget.

The University became a conditional member of the Workers Rights Consortium – a student-initiated labor-monitoring group – in 2000. A licensing code of conduct is a necessary step toward a full membership with the WRC.

“I’m assuming that now that (Yudof) has signed the code of conduct, that means he’s considering being a full member, since that is the stipulation,” said Kate Suchomel, a University sophomore and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group member.

According to the code, the WRC will monitor University licensees to ensure they’re complying with the code. But Rotenberg said he and Yudof are concerned the new organization cannot effectively monitor companies.

“The jury is still out on that,” he said.

The WRC has done three reports in its three years of existence, revealing sweatshop conditions at the New Era Cap Co. factory in New York, a Kukdong plant in Mexico and a P.T. Data operation in Indonesia – all of which have made apparel for the University.