Yudof gives nod to membership

Max Rust

After nine months of meetings, deliberations and student demonstrations, University officials finally decided how to ensure merchandise bearing the University insignia is not made in unhealthy, unsafe and unfair working conditions.
University President Mark Yudof announced March 24 the University will conditionally join the Worker Rights Consortium, a newly formed labor-monitoring organization with a growing membership of 30 colleges and universities. The consortium will have its founding meeting April 7 in New York.
Yudof’s announcement echoes recommendations made by the University Licensee Labor Practices Task Force, a 13-member group of administrators, students, faculty, and staff members formed in 1999 to examine ways the University can ensure licensees of University logos provide fair labor conditions.
The task force considered one organization other than the Worker Rights Consortium: the Fair Labor Association. The monitoring organization is criticized by United Students Against Sweatshops because the association’s board of directors is largely comprised of representatives from the same companies under scrutiny by labor-rights advocates.
In his statement, Yudof said he would “keep an open mind” about the University’s involvement with the association, whose collegiate membership exceeds 130 institutions.
“I am not convinced that university representation on the FLA’s governing board is sufficient, nor do I believe that the FLA’s current plans for monitoring manufacturing facilities are optimally suited to achieving the goal we all share of eliminating sweatshop conditions,” Yudof said.
Yudof’s decision to join the consortium followed recent announcements at schools such as the universities of Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, and Macalester College in St. Paul.
Macalester students demonstrated for days inside the college president’s office — similar to actions taken at other universities — until he announced Macalester would leave the association and join solely the consortium.
But one of the consortium’s founding schools, Brown University, has run into friction because of its involvement with it.
On Thursday, officials from Oregon-based Nike announced the termination of the Brown contract to provide the school’s hockey equipment. Nike did so because the school’s officials requested a contract change to comply with the Worker Rights Consortium’s codes.
Unlike the Fair Labor Association, the consortium code calls for companies licensed by members to publicly disclose labor information, including wage levels, benefits and average hours.
Also, the consortium’s structure is comprised of nongovernmental organizations and university representatives, but not corporations.
Nike labor-practices manager Simon Pestridge said the company declined to be a part of the consortium’s codes because “we don’t have a seat at that table.” Nike does have a seat at the association’s table.
Consortium organizer Maria Roeper said one of the FLA’s biggest problems is the secrecy with which the group operates.
The consortium’s provision that companies disclose wage and hourly rate information would strip away some of the secrecy surrounding sweatshop labor.
Sam Brown, association director, said he thinks the idea of companies disclosing such information is not a goal to set because “the reality is it’s never happened any place with any company, and we think it’s not realistic that companies will join in a voluntary process to do that.”

Max Rust covers the community and agriculture. He can be reached at [email protected]