from The Badger Herald

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Licensing proposal on table

by Doug Feingold

Chancellor John Wiley's Special Committee on Labor and Licensing made two recommendations to Wiley at a press conference Monday regarding their ongoing effort to end sweatshop production of University of Wisconsin merchandise.

The committee is recommending all companies that produce goods with a UW logo must disclose the volume of goods manufactured in a given factory. Committee members intend to ensure that garment production would not relocate to countries where the freedom to form a union is not protected by law.

The committee is also asking all of the companies to disclose the sum they pay to individual factories for each type of good manufactured there. This would help prevent corporations from turning rights abuses into profit, because they are concerned that brands will manufacture especially profitable goods in repressive places, according to the committee.

"We are concerned about human rights violations going on worldwide, and we want to make a big stand," Joel Feingold, a member of the committee, said.

Committee representative Dennis Dresang said UW is concerned about the abuse of workers who are producing clothing with UW insignia.

"The university is profoundly disturbed by some of the stories coming out of the garment industry today - the working conditions, the hours, the pay," Dresang said. "We hope our new policies will prevent such abuses from being permanent features of the global apparel industry."

Special Assistant to the Office of the Chancellor LaMarr Billups said the Chancellor has not yet read the recommendations, but he will need to sign them for to become policy. The committee would like something done in the next few weeks, added Billups.

"Workers are losing jobs, time is of the essence," committee member Liana Dalton added.

Currently, companies who display merchandise with UW insignia must sign a license with the university that requires them to follow the school's code of conduct. If a company does not follow the code of conduct, it is a possibility the university could stop doing business with them, Billups said.

"Since this information is such an important part of any business relationship, the corporations should have no problem producing the data ... unless they have something to hide," Dalton said.

Adidas is a company currently licensed with the university. They produce the jerseys worn by the athletic teams.

"If the policies do go through, it should have no effect on the cost [of merchandise]," Feingold said. "But it is a step towards moving away from sweatshops."

If the recommendations are signed, the new polices will represent the most progressive steps taken by an American university against growing human rights abuses, according to the committee.

A number of other schools could follow Wisconsin's lead in pushing for similar policies against violations in the collegiate apparel sector. Included in these schools are Columbia University, Indiana University, University of Illinois, Purdue University, University of Iowa, Duke University, University of North Carolina, and the University of California-Berkeley.

"[UW], as an institution of intellectual and moral integrity, cannot turn a blind eye when workers' rights are being systematically violated. We just won't tolerate it," Dresang said.

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