In response to last week’s sit-in staged by an activist group in the lobby of University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office, the University has pledged to examine its relationship with the Fair Labor Association next month.
The group Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality received a letter from the University on Thursday. The letter explained the University plans to use the first meeting of the Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights to determine whether the activities of the FLA are in compliance with the University’s code for labor practices and the manufacture of licensed products. The advisory committee hopes to convene for their first meeting on Oct. 7.
SOLE member and engineering junior Sam Rahman said this was just a tactic of the University to stall until SOLE’s concerns are forgotten.
“We’re obviously not satisfied with the response,” Rahman said.
SOLE’s complaints center on PT Victoria, a factory in Indonesia that is owned by Perdana Garments. The factory shut down unexpectedly in 2004, allegedly without paying workers, many of whom had worked more than 24 consecutive hours on an order for clothing company Eddie Bauer.
Rahman said that after shutting down, Perdana soon removed all business from Indonesia.
After the Indonesian Labor Court ruled that the PT Victoria workers were owed $1 million in back pay and overtime, Perdana Garments claimed it was not financially able to make the payment, and Eddie Bauer said the debts were not their responsibility, Rahman said.
The University does not use Eddie Bauer for any of its licensed products, but is a member of the FLA, which monitors companies like Eddie Bauer for unjust labor conditions.
The FLA recently accredited Eddie Bauer for being in compliance with its workplace standards program.
At last Tuesday’s sit-in, SOLE members delivered a letter to Coleman, requesting that the University make the FLA hold Eddie Bauer accountable for the money owed to workers, or leave the FLA.
Special counsel to the president Gary Krenz, who wrote the University’s response to SOLE, said in the letter that among the responsibilities of the University’s labor standards committee is to “assess (organizations’) effectiveness in assisting the University to implement its code of conduct.”
“Assessment of and recommendations about the University’s participation in the FLA – are therefore within the purview of the committee,” Krenz wrote.
Lawrence Root, chair of the University’s labor standards committee and a School of Social Work professor, said the membership of the committee is still being finalized and that he hopes to have their first meeting on Oct. 7.
Root said the committee evaluates the University’s connection with the FLA regularly and that he expected this year’s review to be “an important responsibility” for the committee.
Rahman said relaying the issue to the committee was a “standard University tactic,” because the committee is not yet in session and there are no students among its members.
“There should be student presence on the committee when it meets,” Rahman said.
He added that SOLE’s future plans include educational events in the next few weeks to put increased pressure on the University to act.