Task force looks at U apparel oversight

Travis Reed

The Minnesota Student Association is urging University officials to find an alternative sweatshop-monitoring organization willing to critically examine factories producing Golden Gopher labels.
On Tuesday, MSA passed a resolution charging the Fair Labor Association, a self-monitoring organization comprised of corporate representatives, with failing to “provide adequate monitoring and policing of sweatshops.”
Similar measures to stifle FLA support have been approved by officials at Brown University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan.
University President Mark Yudof assembled a task force in May to determine whether the University has contracts with apparel companies with unsafe and inhumane working conditions. The task force is in the process of choosing an organization to monitor the companies.
“It’s important that the University takes a stand on this issue,” said Jason Vorbeck, author of the resolution. “If large universities like ours don’t take the lead, others won’t do anything either.”
Vorbeck scripted the resolution last week after two female sweatshop workers spoke to University students about their horrific factory experiences.
The resolution alleges that the FLA, the monitoring association approved by the White House Apparel Industry Partnership, provides only a false sense of security to correct sweatshop injustices.
“Allowing the FLA to monitor the corporations is like allowing a murderer to monitor their own activity,” said Drew Hempel, a member of the University’s labor practices task force. “A crucial factor is that it manifests corporate control.”
Although the resolution passed by more than a 2-1 margin, it was not without opponents. Critics argued MSA should focus on matters that more directly affect University students.
“We’re funded by students with the understanding that we’re supposed to make their lives better,” said MSA representative Joe Gustafson. “This won’t do anything but raise the price of Gopher goods.”
Much of the debate centered on the boundaries in which MSA should operate.
MSA President Ben Bowman opposed the resolution and indicated that he would veto it.
“This resolution, as well-intended as it is, might steer us down a track we don’t want to go down,” he said.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation issues and can be reached at [email protected]