Sweatshops should not profit from U

The University is licensing its name and logos to manufacturers whose employees work in sweatshop conditions. Although the administration has shown some concern about these manufacturers, the measures taken thus far have only been symbolic. The University should work toward truly eliminating inhumane treatment in the manufacturing of University-licensed apparel.
Students have protested nationwide against the demanding working conditions at some apparel factories around the world. These conditions include uncomfortable and unhealthful facilities, physical abuse by supervisors, mandatory 12-hour days without overtime pay and mandatory weekend work. Children are frequently employed by these manufacturers at nominal wages. At some factories, women are compelled to take birth control pills to avoid pregnancy-related absences. Factories also fire employees who attempt to organize a union, while wages linger well below a livable salary for the region.
The University is doing little to prevent these abuses. There is currently no policy addressing sweatshop conditions at the 279 factories where apparel with University logos are manufactured. Shortly after University President Mark Yudof took office, he created a sweatshop task force. However, the task force convened for the first time 21 months after its creation and has since done little but suggest possible membership in the Fair Labor Association.
Membership in the FLA, however, is considered by many to be an attempt to placate concerned consumers while avoiding real change. The FLA was formed by President Clinton in an attempt to address issues such as employee abuse and neglect at foreign factories of athletic apparel companies, but the organization has remained largely ineffective. The FLA cannot require companies to reveal their factories’ locations or enforce appropriate labor standards. Furthermore, several of the companies the FLA was intended to monitor are members of the association.
United Students Against Sweatshops, the Committee for Peace and Justice and the Farmworkers Action Network have all condemned the association. Protesters from at least 20 universities have opposed membership in the association, including students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who staged a 97-hour sit-in.
The University should stop allowing businesses that abuse their workers to profit from the University’s logos. A good start would be to recognize the ineffectiveness of the FLA and refuse to join. To ensure its apparel is produced humanely, the University should work with student protesters to produce a code of conduct for manufacturers that requires workers to be paid a livable wage, compensated for overtime and allowed to form unions. The University should also require companies wishing to use its logos to reveal the locations of their factories and open them up to investigation.
By associating with companies that engage in inhumane treatment of workers, the University indirectly condones that behavior. The University’s prioritization of profits over humane treatment of workers is indefensible. Even if enforcing a code of conduct results in some decrease in profit margins, it will still be the right choice.