The apparel companies that make clothing
featuring the University’s logo often use factories located
in remote third-world nations and employ questionable labor
practices. In an effort to hold these corporations responsible for
their labor practices, the University — largely because of
the activism of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality
— has enacted standards in a code of conduct that requires
those companies to follow fair labor practices. Now, the University
has a chance to further ensure proper behavior by demanding wage
disclosure from apparel manufacturers. Wage disclosure would simply
demand that apparel manufacturers reveal how much they are paying
their workers.

Julie Pannuto

The University administration signed on to the Worker Rights
Consortium four years ago, after a student sit-in at the LSA
dean’s office organized by SOLE. The WRC is a nonprofit
organization designed to enforce a manufacturing code of conduct
ensuring fair labor practices in working conditions for employees
of collegiate apparel-producing companies. Signing on to the WRC
meant that the University was taking a leading role in establishing
fair labor standards by setting an example that other academic
institutions can and should follow.

At the outset of SOLE’s campaign to get the University
signed on to the WRC, the most contentious issue for companies like
Nike was disclosing the locations of their factories, arguing that
to simply reveal the location of factories would put the company
out of business. Nike has since disclosed those locations to allow
spot checks of the working conditions, and their empty fears of
bankruptcy were clearly unfounded.

Now, SOLE is organizing another worker rights campaign on campus
that is essential to achieving the aims of the WRC: a campaign for
wage disclosure. The administration its amend their code of conduct
to include a section requiring the apparel corporations who do
business with the University to disclose the wages paid to the
workers who make the apparel.

Two other campuses, the University of Wisconsin and Western
Michigan University, have already added language into their codes
with the wage disclosure requirement. Now is the time for our
university to do the same and maintain its position as a national
leader in the field of maintaining labor standards.

This Friday, University President Mary Sue Coleman will meet
with the University’s Committee on Labor Standards and Human
Rights. The committee is charged with advising the administration
on policies that address labor issues in the production of retail
items that bear the University’s logo. The committee should
advise Coleman on the importance of wage disclosure to creating and
maintaining public accountability in labor practices. While signing
on to the WRC was a good first step, wage disclosure will help
continue the progress that the University has made. Wage rates are
an essential indicator of the working conditions in any factory. It
follows that wage disclosure can be a powerful weapon in combating
the conditions in sweatshops.

SOLE is coordinating a telephone campaign today, asking students
to call both Coleman’s office and the committee’s
office to demand wage disclosure. Students should support this
effort and call Coleman and the committee.

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