Positive Pressure Against Sweatshops
The Berkeley Campus Supports Efforts to Improve Working Conditions At Factories Producing Licensed Products; Chancellor Berdahl Issues Statement
Posted May 5, 1999
In response to widespread concerns about the working conditions under which campus licensed products are made, the University of California last August adopted a Code of Conduct that sets out workplace standards for the manufacture of items bearing the name or logos of UC and its campuses. The code addresses such issues as wages and benefits, working hours, overtime compensation, child labor and nondiscrimination.
Since that time, Berkeley campus staff members have played a key role in helping UC Office of the President in its efforts to gather information on the issue from other universities and higher education associations and to meet with concerned students, faculty members and campus administrators.
The American Council on Education recently urged universities nationwide, including UC, to join the monitoring and compliance efforts being undertaken by the Fair Labor Association -- a group that has come under fire, however, from some student organizers.
A coalition of students and faculty, the University Coalition Against Sweatshops, has proposed new Code of Conduct provisions on monitoring, disclosure, wages, women's rights and other issues. UC recently established a systemwide advisory group, made up of students, faculty and staff, to review these proposals and possible revisions in the Code, as well as the pros and cons of joining the Fair Labor Association.
On April 28, Chancellor Berdahl issued the following statement on behalf of the Berkeley campus.
Statement by Chancellor Robert Berdahl
Sweatshops have been declared illegal in the United States, but daily working conditions faced by many employees around the world remain unfair and unsafe, and the buying and selling of products made by workers under sweatshop conditions continues in this country every year.
At Berkeley and on other campuses, advocates of fair labor practices seeking to bring positive pressure to bear against sweatshops globally deserve our attention, for they are right in calling on American universities to act responsibly by licensing our logos and trademarks only to manufacturers who offer decent wages and humane treatment to workers.
I want to express my strong agreement in principle with student leaders and others who are asking the University of California and all universities to use our bargaining power in the marketplace to improve conditions for workers.
The popularity of UC's logos presents both an opportunity and, I would agree, an obligation as a public university, to promote socially responsible business practices and fundamental justice through our product licensing agreements.
Without attention to such agreements, American consumers may unwittingly be buying and selling the products of overseas sweatshop labor; we may be turning a blind eye to inhumane labor practices abroad in violation of the justice that Americans seek by making sweatshops illegal at home.
I support new efforts to review the stipulations that have previously applied to the licensing of UC Berkeley trademarks. The newly-appointed systemwide UC Advisory Group on the Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees, chaired by Berkeley Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, is a solid step toward ensuring that our licensing code is a strong one.
Students, who as consumers probably constitute the largest segment of the market for university logo products, are being well-represented in this effort. This week the Student Coalition Against Sweatshops requested additional representation on the panel and I was pleased to see two more student seats created, doubling the number of student voices in the Advisory Group. An additional faculty member will also join the group, bringing the number of faculty representatives to three.
We should work together as a community to ensure that the University of California's Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees, adopted last August, is an effective mechanism for going forward. The code already requires our licensees to adhere to a detailed set of workplace standards covering wages, benefits and working hours; prohibiting child labor, forced labor, harassment and abuse; guaranteeing nondiscrimination and freedom of association; and providing a safe and healthy working environment.
We have received no complaints that our licensees are violating the code or even subcontracting to shops that might violate it. But we are prepared to enforce compliance, if necessary by terminating contracts, should violations arise in the future.
In general I support revisions of the code, where possible, that will strengthen it further, and I am committed to continuing efforts by students, faculty and administrators, working together as advocates of fair labor, to contribute to constructive changes in the apparel industry, both in the U.S. and abroad.
In addition, I am pleased to say that the University of California system, and UC Berkeley specifically, are providing national leadership, in conjunction with Notre Dame and Harvard universities, for a new coalition -- independent of the existing Fair Labor Association -- that will explore alternative strategies. The group is launching a study of the substantive issues surrounding sweatshops and licensed products and how best to deal with them.
Clearly our interests are best served by joining forces with other institutions to increase our strength and influence in the marketplace. Monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in the international arena will depend on a combination of resources.
We look forward to joining with other fair-labor advocates to work for better factory conditions and against sweatshops in the days to come.
Note: The UC Code of Conduct for Trademark Licensees is available on the web at www.ucop.edu/ucophome/coordrev/policy/8-03-98.html.