from Wisconsin State Journal - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Uw-madison Trying To Keep Its Sweatshirts Out Of Sweatshops

by Karen Rivedal

A university committee on labor licensing policies is trying to stamp out sweatshop-like worker abuses by asking UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley to place tighter controls on the companies that manufacture apparel using the university's name or logo.

The committee is charged with advising Wiley on licensing issues. LaMarr Billups, a special assistant to Wiley, said the chancellor would make a decision on the recommendation in the next few weeks.

"I think it's a strong step forward," Billups said Monday.

UW-Madison has contracts allowing more than 450 companies to make products bearing the university's name or logos. The business is worth about $1 million a year to UW-Madison, and millions more to the companies, while providing jobs for laborers in some 3,300 factories worldwide.

The change approved by the committee Monday would require the companies to disclose the volume of goods manufactured in each of its subcontractor factories. This would allow monitoring of any shifts in production to countries where workers' rights to assemble freely are not respected, said Joel Feingold, a student member of the committee.

All companies with university licenses also would have to disclose the sum they pay to factories for each type of good manufactured there. That change also would allow better monitoring to ensure the most profitable goods are not shifted to factories in more repressive countries, Feingold said.

UW-Madison already requires its licensees to follow a code of conduct, which states that companies must pay workers at least the minimum local prevailing wage and guarantee certain rights, such as freedom of association. But ensuring that companies follow the code is more challenging.

The committee's action Monday is part of a nationwide push to improve worker conditions. Several universities are considering similar changes, including Columbia, Indiana and the University of Illinois.

"The corporations are going to get letters from all these schools at the same time," Feingold said. "They're not going to be able to ignore it."

Professor Dennis Dresang, a faculty member of the committee, said the new regulations were being proposed because the university is "profoundly disturbed" by reports of worker mistreatment.

Recent activities page

SLAC index page