UNIVERSITY SENATE, Columbia University

Proposed: March 31, 2000

Adopted: March 31, 2000

 

 

RESOLUTION TO JOIN THE WORKERS RIGHTS CONSORTIUM WHILE MAINTAINING MEMBERSHIP IN THE FAIR LABOR ASSOCIATION

 

WHEREAS the Fair Labor Association (FLA) has made progress in creating a Code of Workplace Conduct, designing a monitoring system, and incorporating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into its activities, and

 

WHEREAS the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) allows for expanded student involvement, full public disclosure, and unannounced factory visits that could enhance the University’s continued commitment to detect and eliminate sweatshop conditions in the factories of its licensees, and

 

WHEREAS the WRC will have its founding conference at New York University on April 7, 2000;

 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the University maintain its membership in the FLA;

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the University immediately become a member university of the WRC with all relevant rights and responsibilities;

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Senate External Relations Committee conduct a review of the WRC immediately after the founding conference and report its findings to the University Senate at its April 28, 2000, meeting;

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Senate External Relations Committee conduct a review of the FLA and the WRC no later than the University Senate meeting in March 2001,and every year thereafter, to evaluate the University’s involvement in the FLA, the WRC, and/or other groups dedicated to ending sweatshops.

 

University Senate Committee on External Relations and Research Policy

 

 

UNIVERSITY SENATE, Columbia University

March 31, 2000

 

 

Rationale and Statement of Intent

The Senate External Relations Committee has reviewed the progress of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), met with concerned students and other individuals, and publicly discussed the FLA and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) with newly hired FLA Executive Director Sam Brown and Michael Posner, executive director of an FLA affiliate NGO, and with WRC’s Advisory Council member Jeffrey Ballinger. The Committee has concluded that the best course of action is for the University to remain a member of the FLA and to join the WRC. The specific recommended course of action is outlined in the accompanying resolution.

The FLA’s fourteen governing board members will include six members from the apparel industry, six from largely U.S.-based NGOs, one university member, and the board’s chair. Its charter calls for internal monitoring, using reports from the companies themselves to end sweatshop labor conditions, among other monitors. This has been referred to as a "top-down" approach.

The WRC governing board will have twelve members, six from the WRC Advisory Council of NGOs and labor, three from United Students Against Sweatshops, and three university members. Its charter calls for unannounced inspections and rigorous external verification, using domestic NGOs, as well as workers’ reports. The WRC emphasizes the active participation of students but it is not a student-run organization. This has been referred to as a "bottom-up" approach.

 

The Committee sees these two approaches as complementary. The two groups have different operating strategies and inspection procedures yet in all cases the differences between the two organizations broaden the effort to end sweatshops rather than detract from it. Both require licensees to effect codes of conduct and compliance. Neither organization prohibits membership in the other; Brown University, for example, has joined both the FLA and the WRC. The Committee does not see this proposal as a compromise but rather as the best next step in the University’s efforts.

 

The WRC currently prefers university business offices in charge of licensing management to be distant from the monitoring and enforcement process, so as to avoid conflicts of interest. After conversations with CSAS and others, the Committee understands the WRC is willing to reconsider its preference to accommodate the kind of effective pursuit of compliance that Columbia Business Services has thus far demonstrated.

Because the WRC is still in the formative phase, the Committee will review the WRC immediately after the WRC Founding Conference on April 7, 2000. In this sense, Columbia’s membership can be seen as a conditional one, to ensure the University’s participation in the process continues to be warranted in its best interest. This is preferable to taking a "wait-and-see" position where the University would not attend the conference. Joining an organization still in its infancy is similar to the University’s 1999 decision to join the FLA.

The resolution mandates an annual review of the two groups, and of any other organizations with which the University may ally itself. Implicit within this clause is the opportunity for the Committee to review the groups anytime before the March 2001 deadline.

The Committee recommends action on this resolution at the March 31, 2000, Senate meeting in order for the University to send its representatives to the WRC Founding Conference on April 7, 2000, at New York University. The University will then be able to meet and participate with the other eighteen member universities as the national movement to end sweatshops develops.

University Senate Committee on External Relations and Research Policy