from The Badger Herald Friday, November 18, 2005

Wiley gains Facebook profile

MATTHEW KUTZ/Herald photo

by John Potratz

Seeking stronger action to prevent University of Wisconsin apparel from being manufactured in sweatshops, the Student Labor Action Coalition invited students to join Chancellor John Wiley's list of Facebook friends Wednesday.

Wiley's satirical profile, compiled by SLAC members as a musing of university apparel policies, includes a rendition of his views toward a United Students Against Sweatshops proposal calling for sweatshop reform. The proposal, backed by SLAC and the Associated Students of Madison, would call for licensees such as Nike, adidas and Reebok to purchase 25 percent of their apparel from unionized factories after the first year of its implementation, increasing to 50 percent after two years and 75 percent after three years.

Because Wiley has stated he will not endorse the proposal until potential legal and procedural implications are looked into, SLAC members created the profile to coerce him into signing on. If approved by Wiley, UW would become the first university to formally endorse the proposal.

"We're just calling [into] question why Wiley hasn't gotten on board yet," said SLAC member and Labor Licensing Policy Committee representative Joel Feingold. "It's mystifying."

Feingold, who is listed as one of Wiley's 1,486 Facebook friends as of press time, said the measure is a "pressure technique" to hurry Wiley's endorsement. By signing the proposal, the chancellor would only be supporting it "in principle," he added.

"That's all that we're asking. It's not that unreasonable," Feingold said. "He's not sticking his neck out."

Yet university officials and Wiley have said proper precautions must be taken before endorsing any document or resolution. Additional measures are being pursued to address the issue.

During a meeting Wednesday, Interim Special Assistant to the Chancellor Dawn Crim said university advisors are investigating the proposal's legality and a "global apparels expert" has already been contracted to explore additional means of encouraging licensees to employ more unionized labor.

"We're all looking at our codes," she said. "We are simply vetting out if it really does work."

As far as Wiley's Facebook profile is concerned, Crim said the university is focusing its attention on the issue, not theatrics.

"We're not spending any energy on that … we're staying on the issues," she said. "The issues [are] what we're trying to uncover in this proposal and determine the feasibility of it."

Student LLPC members, most of whom are also involved in SLAC, first introduced the proposal at the end of September. After the LLPC unanimously approved the proposal shortly thereafter, the Associated Students of Madison passed a referendum on Oct. 17 calling for the university to adopt it.

In a letter to ASM dated Oct. 31, Chancellor Wiley explained his stance on the issue.

"You can appreciate, I am certain, that when fairly significant changes are proposed to our existing Code of Conduct, contractually binding on all licensees, it is neither prudent nor practical for me to simply endorse such changes," Wiley wrote.

Wiley went on to explain the proposal could compromise portions of the current Code of Conduct shared with university licensees. Among other conditions, the policy obligates licensees to adhere to proper workers' wage, hour, overtime compensation and health and safety regulations. The code does not address workers' rights to unionize.

"I am not opposed to the principle," Wiley concluded. "I do need to be satisfied, however, that there is more than symbolism at stake, and that we are pursuing an effective, workable, long-term strategy that does not unfairly penalize certain workers."

Also in the letter, Wiley explained the university has already joined the Workers Rights Consortium — an independent committee that oversees manufacturers of university apparel — at the discretion of the LLPC.

While the WRC is responsible for examining potential labor abuses, in general the group only launches investigations after receiving a formal complaint.

Cynthia Van Matre, administrative program manager for UW Trademark Licensing, said before considering the proposal, the university must first work with licensees to see how it could be implemented on their end.

"Right now, they can't even say, 'OK, we're going to designate this factory,'" Van Matre said. "It sounds like a good idea, but there's a lot you have to do to get to that point."

Yet Feingold maintained the chancellor is simply stalling, adding if Wisconsin can lead support for the proposal, other universities around the nation will be more inclined to sign on.

"That Bucky Badger logo belongs to you, to me, to the people of Wisconsin," Feingold said. "It doesn't belong to Nike."

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