BU signs new anti-sweatshop code
By Brian Fitzgerald
On April 2 Executive Vice President Joseph Mercurio signed a new agreement aimed at ensuring that merchandise bearing the BU insignia is not made in sweatshops. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) agreement was designed by the Apparel Industry Partnership, a coalition initiated by the White House in 1996, and outlines a code of conduct for manufacturers in the apparel industry worldwide.
A five-person committee of BU students, faculty, and administrators will be formed by late April to discuss issues related to the FLA agreement.
The new agreement and the committee are the latest steps taken by BU in an effort to improve conditions in overseas factories that manufacture licensed apparel. A campaign for more stringent antisweatshop regulations has been mounted at many other universities as well, including Duke and Notre Dame.
Earlier, on February 12, BU signed a code of conduct developed by the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) Task Force, a document designed to prevent the abuse of workers who manufacture university apparel. When he signed the code developed by CLC, an Atlanta firm that acts as licensee agent for 160 universities, Mercurio added a statement urging the CLC Task Force to "include the principle of disclosure to the public of licensee factory locations."
BU attorney Larry Elswit says that the FLA agreement can be better enforced. "The new agreement provides money and a mechanism for inspecting garment manufacturing sites," says Elswit. "It will give the various colleges and industry groups that are concerned about this issue an opportunity to take not only a moral stance, but an economic stance as well: they can tell the manufacturers, 'Comply, or we'll reconsider where we send our business.' "
A small group of student activists at BU have been pressing the University to adopt a code that also includes a "living wage," six months of maternity leave and three months of paternity leave with full pay and benefits, and child care for children, up to age 11, of employees -- although some of these standards exceed the minimum required in the United States. Students have also been calling for effective ways of enforcing the regulations.
BU administrators say that the FLA agreement, drafted by an alliance of manufacturers, human rights groups, and trade unions, provides more information about the level of compliance by manufacturers. It prohibits forced labor and child labor, bans harassment and abuse, sets a maximum 60-hour workweek and a cap on mandatory overtime, and requires employers to pay workers the nation's minimum wage or the prevailing industry wage -- whichever is higher. The agreement has the endorsement of the International Labor Rights Fund.
Still, members of Students Against Sweatshops (SAS), a group at BU, say that rather than endorsing the FLA agreement, they are awaiting another agreement being drafted at the University of California-Berkeley by the University Coalition Against Sweatshops. "The FLA agreement makes the information available to the FLA Committee, but it does not ensure that the public will be notified," says SAS member Chris McCallum (COM'02). SAS says that people who will monitor the factories' compliance with the code are contracted by manufacturers, not the FLA.
SAS says it still stands by its own code of conduct, but hopes that the FLA agreement evolves into a document that will further strengthen licensing guidelines.
Herb Ross, associate vice president and associate dean of students, says that the FLA agreement is a good start. "Once we can feel comfortable that the working conditions are safe," he says, "we can deal with the wages and benefits as a separate issue."