December 2000

TO: The University Senate

FROM: Eugene Litwak, chair, University Senate External Relations Committee

RE: An exchange on universities’ anti-sweatshop efforts

Below is a letter from the University Senate External Relations Committee, in response to a letter written by the Academic Consortium on International Trade (ACIT) on the anti-sweatshop efforts of some American universities. The ACIT letter was addressed to many university presidents, including Columbia’s President Rupp.

For additional information, readers are directed to ACIT’s site and to the Chronicle of Higher Education site for coverage regarding the ACIT letter (especially September 14, 2000).


December 8, 2000

Dear ACIT Steering Committee:

I write for the Columbia University Senate External Relations Committee and Its Subcommittee on Sweatshops regarding your letter dated September 25, 2000, on the anti-sweatshop efforts of many colleges and universities. While the Committee disagrees with many of the points you express regarding the Worker Rights Consortium, the Fair Labor Association, and the use of sweatshop labor, there is one particular error in your letter that we need to address.

Regarding the decision-making process of universities to determine their involvement in anti-sweatshop efforts, the second paragraph of your letter states: “decisions should be made only after careful research, discussion, and debate in a manner appropriate to informed decision-making. However, decisions are often made without seeking the views of scholars or of a broader campus constituency.” The first statement describes precisely the process undergone here at Columbia University; the second is completely contradicted by the Columbia experience.

The University Senate’s External Relations Subcommittee on Sweatshops, a body composed of administrators, faculty and student senators and non-senators, met regularly to discuss and debate all sides of the issues surrounding the sweatshop controversy. In addition, the Committee held a public forum with FLA Executive Director Sam Brown; Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights and FLA Board Member Michael Posner; and Press for Change Director Jeff Ballinger. Expert faculty and administrators not on the subcommittee were called for consultation; indeed, at one meeting of this subcommittee Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, a member of the ACIT Steering Committee, was invited to present his views. That the subcommittee’s recommendation to the University Senate then differed from Dr. Bhagwati’s opinion was not for want of research, discussion, or debate.


Eugene Litwak

Professor of Sociology and Public Health,

Chair, Columbia University Senate External Relations Committee

and Its Subcommittee on Sweatshops

cc: President George Rupp