from Wisconsin State Journal - January 24, 2004

Wiley Vows Licensees Will Reveal Wages

Uw-madison Chancellor Agrees To A Request From A Student Group Seeking To Protect Workers.

by Karen Rivedal

UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley on Friday promised to require specific wage disclosures from the companies that make university-licensed merchandise.

Wiley said he agreed "in spirit" with the request for more wage information from the Student Labor Action Coalition, whose members are committed to worker rights. But he said the group's recommendation for quarterly disclosures might be impractical, suggesting annual or six-month reports instead.

"I want (the effort) to mean something and really make a difference," Wiley said. "Part of the problem is the degree of impatience and idealism in some of these student groups. They want to fall on a sword and feel good about the righteousness of their position regardless of whether it does any good."

Students on Friday were no less wary about the administration's motives. While pleased to see action on their recommendation -- first made in November through a vote of a university committee that advises Wiley on labor licensing issues -- they clearly were concerned that the new pledge be more than just words.

"The commitment of the university is the key to whether we're going to get this," said Kate McCormack, a member of the advisory committee and the Student Labor Action Coalition, which has pushed the issue. "It's a matter of the university being very vigilant about it."

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.

But some of those companies -- or their subcontractors -- have been accused of exploiting workers through slave wages and sweatshop-like conditions, especially in developing countries. A national campaign known as United Students Against Sweatshops is leading a movement to urge universities to seek detailed information about wages.

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 benefits. The university also pays a monitoring organization, the Workers' Rights Consortium, to investigate any allegations of unfair labor practices, and some contracts have been canceled over violations, Wiley said.

UW-Madison will work with the WRC to contact all the university's licensees and develop a "plan of action" for them to start reporting the wage information on a regular basis, Wiley spokesman LaMarr Billups said, noting he hoped to have the details worked out by the end of the semester.

"If any companies refuse or balk at cooperating with WRC, we will terminate their contract," Billups said. "We're going to be on top of it. I don't want this issue to get cold."

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