UC's Sweatshop Code
UC's Sweatshop Code
Forum Airs Pros and Cons of Monitoring Options
Cockrell, Public Affairs
Now that the University of California has adopted one of the country's strongest codes of conduct on the manufacture of products bearing its name or logo, the next challenge is to ensure that the code is enforced on the factory floor.
At a sometimes heated three-hour "dialogue on social responsibility," held March 20 in Anderson Auditorium, students, staff, anti-sweatshop activists and monitoring organizations discussed how best to watchdog clothing and footwear manufacturers for compliance with labor, health and safety and environmental laws.
Opinion is strongly divided as to which of several proposed monitoring programs would best support UC's newly adopted standards. Some, for example, believe that manufacturers themselves should play a strong role in the monitoring process, while others want monitors to come from outside the industry.
Panelists included representatives from four monitoring organizations -- the Worker's Rights Consortium, supported by a large contingent of students who wore orange felt ribbons and "I Support the WRC" stickers; the Fair Labor Association, recently organized by American clothing corporations; a new union-initiated effort, Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production; and a business initiative, Social Accountability 8000.
Also on the panel were representatives from University Students Against Sweatshops, Sweatshop Watch, and a former garment worker from the U.S. territory of Saipan, who now is an anti-sweatshop organizer.
Former garment worker Carmencita Abad has personally experienced some of the workplace abuses that fair-labor codes of conduct are designed to end. She said she lost her job for union-organizing activities and for exposing the policy of firing pregnant women.
Abad opposes the Fair Labor Association, saying that its system would not eliminate sweatshops.
But Sam Brown, who represents the Fair Labor Association, believes that his group, because it includes industry representatives on its board, is well positioned to get manufacturers to cooperate with the monitoring process.
Brown reminded anti-sweatshop activists that university-licensed goods represent only a tiny fraction of the products made by the global apparel and footwear industry.
A speaker for the union-initiated Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production, echoed Brown's belief that industry participation in the monitoring process is important.
"Don't dismiss the employer," he said. "If you don't have the employer at the table, you won't get their cooperation."
UC Riverside sociology professor Edna Bonacich, who studies offshore apparel manufacturing, differed -- saying that including manufacturers on "our side of the table" was like having the fox guard the chicken coop.
Bonacich supports the Worker's Rights Consortium's plan for using local non-governmental organizations and worker's rights groups -- not commercial monitoring firms paid for by the manufacturers themselves -- to inspect factories and check out reported abuses.
UC, along with a number of other academic institutions, is participating in a study to gather information needed to institute an monitoring system.
"But it will be six to nine months before UC has a policy," Chancellor Berdahl said in a statement read at the forum. The university is therefore considering whether or not to prepare an interim plan until a permanent system is in place.