Two months after a wage proposal was first brought up,
University President Mary Sue Coleman said last week in a written
statement that she supports a University labor standards
committee’s request to collect verifiable wage data from
companies that produce University apparel.
On April 6, the Advisory Committee for Labor Standards and Human
Rights, along with the activist group Students Organizing for Labor
and Economic Equality, agreed to submit a proposal to Coleman. It
encouraged University administrators to require licensees to ensure
greater transparency of their workers’ wages, SOLE member
Marlowe Coolican said.
Coleman emphasized that the University already uses the Code of
Conduct for Licensees, which stipulates that “licensees
commit themselves to a wage goal that enables employees to satisfy
their basic needs.”
The University already responds to complaints about noncompliant
companies on a case-by-case basis, but there is no systematic
process for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the wage
standards, University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said.
She added that the next step for SOLE and the University is to
work with the committee, the Fair Labor Association, the
Workers’ Rights Consortium and the Collegiate Licensing
Company to determine the best means for achieving the goal of
greater wage transparency.
“It is not at all a matter of adding a new code,”
Coleman stressed that the University must pursue an effective
and up-to-date means for implementing this clause and ensuring
compliance with it.
One way this could be done is through wage disclosure —
publishing the wages paid at factories producing University
merchandise. This was the proposal originally submitted by SOLE to
the committee. But this is not the only conceivable solution,
Peterson said. Other possibilities could include hiring a middle
man to closely monitor wages.
LSA sophomore and SOLE member Alex Cotton said Coleman’s
response “is a really good first step.”
“Her response affirms the importance of gathering wage
data and shows that she is willing to participate in a dialogue
with licensees,” he said.
But Cotton said he is also concerned that Coleman is stalling on
the issue in hopes that SOLE and other students will put it out of
SOLE members held a rally on the Diag and in front of the
Fleming Administration Building Friday. During the rally, activists
ate pies to show that “wage disclosure is as easy as
“Our rally on Friday showed that we are waiting for her to
make steps and that we are not going to go away,” he
He also mentioned that SOLE would like to see the administration
insert a wage disclosure clause in its contracts with University
Cotton said his hope is that wage disclosure would begin to
create a dialogue between licensees and their subcontracters
— companies that are assigned part of the product-making
He also said wage disclosure would make it easier for
nongovernmental organizations like the WRC to investigate
noncompliance because factory workers could easily verify the
accuracy of published wage data.
“By making this information public, we can create a race
to the top and not to the bottom,” he said.
The University of Wisconsin’s administration recently
approved a wage disclosure policy similar to the one being
considered by the University of Michigan.
Liana Dalton, member of Student Labor Action Coalition at
Wisconsin, said approval of the wage disclosure requirement was
only the first step.
“Since the chancellor approved (the proposal), we’ve
done a ton of research and spent hours hammering out a deal with
the WRC, the licensees and the University,” she added.
Dalton mentioned a few measures that helped Wisconsin achieve
its goal, citing student support as crucial to the success of her
“Campus education is really important. The administration
needs to know the students are concerned and that it is not an
esoteric issue,” she said.
Dalton added that increasing the number of schools involved
would force corporations to start listening.
But some University experts said they are dubious about the
positive consequences claimed by SOLE of a wage disclosure policy.
Economics and Public Policy Prof. Alan Deardorff said in an e-mail
that most companies that make college apparel subcontract their
products, making it difficult to gather accurate wage data.
“Exactly how one is supposed to trace back through the
supply chain to get the wages of all workers who contributed to a
product, I don’t know,” he said.
Deardorff also said that by focusing attention on wages,
companies will likely shift production to areas where higher wages
are already being paid due to high labor productivity.
The wage disclosure requirement “will discourage suppliers
from employing precisely those workers who need the jobs the
most,” he said.
Economics and Public Policy Prof. Robert Stern said he is
concerned that such a policy would be intrusive and would add an
unnecessary level of bureaucracy to the corporate sphere as well as
to the University.
“The (University) itself would have to expand considerably
the staff needed to process and keep up with such a reporting
system and figure out what is to be done with the
information,” he said.