from The Wisconsin State Journal, March 29, 2005

'Sweatshop panel' irked at Wiley

by Karen Rivedal

Half the members of a committee that advises UW- Madison Chancellor John Wiley on labor licensing issues resigned in protest Monday, and the other half may step down pending the outcome of a planned meeting with Wiley.

Members of the university's Labor Licensing Committee, made up of eight students, professors and academic staff, are upset because they believe their recommendations on sweatshop labor issues are not being taken seriously, said Liana Dalton, a student member of the committee.

"We feel like we've been completely slapped in the face and disregarded," Dalton said. "We've been bending over backwards to try to work through these issues and give the chancellor good advice and be reasonable. Yet he's completely unwilling to dialogue with us on these issues."

Key to the disagreement is a recently renewed sponsorship agreement with Adidas, in which the company agreed to open its books for university inspection on the condition that the information remain confidential. The committee had pushed for full public disclosure of salaries and other business information.

Members also were dissatisfied with a letter Wiley wrote on March 4 to all the university's licensees about doing business in countries where workers' rights are not protected. In the letter, Wiley urged the companies to conduct their business according to the university's code of conduct, which requires companies to pay a minimum prevailing wage and otherwise respect workers' rights.

"We will not continue our association with licensees who ignore these standards," Wiley said in the letter.

But committee members felt Wiley should have made the point stronger.

Wiley spokesman LaMarr Billups said the chancellor shares the committee members' goal of eliminating worker abuses in the worldwide apparel industry, noting the university has revoked two licenses in the past few years because of code violations. But Wiley rejected the committee's version of the letter to licensees as "too proscriptive" because it proposed a number of new policies to guide the companies' actions, Billups said.

In a letter that committee members Monday described as "hostile and insulting," Wiley told the committee he took its recommendations "very seriously," but said he had to make decisions based on additional factors, such as "customer and vendor relations" and "academic and research needs."

"It strikes me as a bit counterproductive for members of the committee to complain or threaten action adverse to the institution every time I don't simply sign a letter provided to me (by the committee)," Wiley said in the letter. "The committee isn't charged to sit in place of the chancellor."

The committee members who resigned Monday were three students - Dalton, Joel Feingold and Alison Goetsch - and professor Jane Collins.

Collins described the committee as "politically important" to the university but useless in practice because of the way Wiley sidetracked its recommendations, she said.

"We don't see that the chancellor is even considering our opinions or consulting with us about important discussions," said Collins, a rural sociology and women's studies professor.

Committee member Dennis Dresang, a political science professor, said he was "deeply concerned" about differing goals and communication problems with Wiley and would resign if those problems could not be resolved.

"Communication issues usually can be resolved," said Dresang, a professor of political science. "If it's more than (that), I've got other things to do with my life. We really need much more of a dialogue."

Wiley's office was trying to schedule a meeting with the remaining committee members for sometime in April.

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 Adidas contract is a sponsorship agreement which requires Adidas to provide shoes, equipment and uniforms to UW-Madison's 23 intercollegiate athletic teams, material worth about $950,000 a year. Adidas gets free advertising in the Kohl Center and Camp Randall and other benefits, including a limited number of appearances to help promote Adidas products.

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