From The Badger herald
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Advocate talks to licensing committee
by James Davison
Photo by Ben Smidt
An organizer of the first apparel company to unionize in the country of El Salvador spoke with student, faculty and staff members of the University of Wisconsin Labor and Licensing Policy Committee Monday.
Gilberto Garcia of Just Garments spoke with committee members about labor conditions in companies UW licenses to manufacture official university apparel.
"[Garcia discussed] possible alternatives in licenses that the university does to try to bring a more sweat[shop]-free alternative. We've been ... exploring how we can incorporate apparel factories with good working conditions," Alison Goetsch, a UW junior who is on LLPC, said. "[We are looking to] find a way for the university to get our apparel made at these factories."
UW junior Liana Dalton, who is also on the committee, said Garcia stressed the importance of utilizing UW's power to influence business practices.
"He expressed the importance of the university making a strong statement," Dalton said, adding it is important for UW to play an "active role, rather than watchdog role" with its licensees.
Ruth Castel-Branco, a member of the workers'-rights-advocating student organization Student Labor Action Coalition, said Garcia's visit was beneficial because of the uniqueness it provides.
"[His visit] provides a different network between [typical] networks and the actual factories. This is a radical innovation," she said. "Garcia is from a place where there has been a lot of activism."
LLPC, which advises Chancellor John Wiley on issues regarding UW's licensees and their factories, has encouraged the UW administration to take steps toward licensing only apparel companies with factories with improved conditions and that allow workers to unionize.
Wiley recently sent a letter to all of UW's licensees outlining the importance of factories following the university code of conduct. The letter insisted the companies not participate in "cut and run" practices, which move well-established, unionized factories to new locations. The letter also stressed the importance of workers' rights.
"[Letters] let the big corporations know that there's pressure ... for them to change the way that they work," Castel-Branco said. "if they don't get these letters, then they're not receiving any pressure. The University of Wisconsin is a big bargaining power."
Dalton said she hopes the university will send more letters, including notes addressing the issue of wage disclosure. She added LLPC encourages companies to take a more publicly active role and hear the concerns of students.
"We applaud the university for sending those out," she said.
Last year, UW stated it would require all licensees to disclose the wages of their factories' laborers in hopes to monitor working conditions better.
According to Castel-Branco, UW's licensing code of conduct is fairly advanced compared to other Big Ten schools.
"We have wage-disclosure language other universities don't have," she said. "[However], this doesn't mean we can't improve the code of conduct and make [changes]."