Subject: Upstart Anti-Sweatshop Group Impresses College Officials
From: PJS (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Apr 14 2000 - 09:41:03 EDT
Monday, April 10, 2000
Upstart Anti-Sweatshop Group Impresses College Officials
By MARTIN VAN DER WERF
University administrators who attended the first meeting
Friday of the Worker Rights Consortium, a new anti-sweatshop
group, came away from it pleasantly surprised: The
organization, pushed primarily by students and labor groups,
was far more cohesive and less strident than they expected.
However, the administrators, who represented about 30 of the
44 institutions that have joined the consortium, could not
agree on which three people to elect to the organization's
governing board, and they issued a letter listing continuing
concerns that they hope the consortium will answer.
The universities asked for further explanation of how the
consortium is financed, called for a way to "reward" apparel
companies that have maintained good working conditions at
their factories, and raised concerns about the makeup of the
organization's governing board. They questioned whether having
it be made up of three college officials, three students, and
six members of the consortium's advisory board -- whose
members represent mostly labor unions and labor-rights
organizations -- would dilute university input too much. Also,
the administrators wondered whether the selection process for
choosing the student representatives was broad enough. As it
now stands, the students on the board are chosen by United
Students Against Sweatshops, a group that works in tandem with
the consortium. The institutions want students who are not
necessarily members of United Students Against Sweatshops to
be considered for positions on the board.
Nevertheless, most university representatives spoke positively
about the organization's professionalism, which has been a
"I was impressed by the depth of insight of some members of
the advisory board," said Damon R. Sims, the associate dean of
students at Indiana University. "They really are sincerely
committed to collaboration with the universities."
The consortium has been something of a shadow organization,
operating out of a one-room office in a New York church while
two recent college graduates traveled the country, trying to
drum up students' support. Some universities joined the group
only after students on the campuses held protests or occupied
the offices of presidents or other top administrators.
The four-hour meeting in New York on Friday was closed to
reporters because, among other reasons, "we weren't sure how
well everyone was going to get along," said David Unger, a
sophomore at Cornell University. Participants in the meeting
were interviewed as it broke up.
The protests advocating for the Worker Rights Consortium have
been driven, in part, by opposition to the Fair Labor
Association, a group that evolved from meetings between
apparel makers and the U.S. Labor Department. About 130
universities have joined that group, but some students have
derided it as "too corporate," noting that company
representatives make up almost half of its governing board,
and that companies themselves can pick the monitors who are
supposed to certify that labor practices at factories meet
Leaders of the Worker Rights Consortium made it clear that
they were not opposed to universities' belonging to both their
organization and the Fair Labor Association. The leaders also
said they would engage corporations in their efforts to
monitor working conditions at factories. However, they
reiterated that they had no plans to allow any industry
representatives on the group's governing board.
Representatives of Nike Inc., one of the largest apparel
makers, have already said the company has no intention of
working with the W.R.C., partly because it will not give
corporations any seats on the board.
The university representatives tentatively agreed to meet
again in late April to elect their representatives to the
consortium's board. The organization is likely to incorporate
as a nonprofit group shortly thereafter.
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