Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality staged a sit-in yesterday in the lobby of University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office to voice its concern regarding the alleged mistreatment of Eddie Bauer workers in Indonesia.
The Fair Labor Association, of which the University is a member, recently accredited Eddie Bauer for adhering to the FLA’s workplace standards program despite an unexpected shutdown of a Jakarta garment factory that manufactures Eddie Bauer apparel. The factory’s closure left the workers jobless and without a total of $1 million in pay.
The SOLE members requested a meeting with Coleman to demand that the University — which does not use Eddie Bauer for official apparel — either make a statement by leaving the FLA or force the FLA to make Eddie Bauer accountable for the money it owes the workers.
“The FLA is supposed to monitor for sweatshops, and they’re not,” said RC senior and SOLE member Ryan Bates.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said Coleman did not have time for a meeting but did receive a letter from SOLE explaining the reasoning for their sit-in.
SOLE member and Engineering junior Sam Rahman said the factory workers in Jakarta had worked 24 consecutive hours on an Eddie Bauer order last year when the factory, owned by Perdana Garments, was closed without warning as Perdana removed all its business from Indonesia.
The Indonesian Labor Court ruled in May 2004 that Perdana Garments owed the workers $1 million in back pay and overtime. Rahman said the ruling has been difficult to enforce because Perdana moved all its business to Cambodia and Myanmar.
Rahman also said that when the FLA and Eddie Bauer were notified of Perdana’s actions, Eddie Bauer denied responsibility for the money owed, and Perdana was reported as financially unable to make the payment.
“Eddie Bauer is just leaving these workers high and dry,” Rahman said. Peterson said that while the University does not have any business with Eddie Bauer, the University’s Standing Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights would examine the school’s relationship with the FLA this year.
“The things that were of concern … were not happening while Michigan materials were being manufactured. The concerns are actually over the relationship between the University and the Fair Labor Association,” Peterson said.
Peterson added that the labor committee resumes meetings soon, and while relations with the FLA and similar organizations such as the Worker Rights Consortium will be on the agenda, there is no specific timeframe for a decision on SOLE’s concerns.
The letter given to Coleman requested that she respond by Friday, yet Peterson said she was unsure whether Coleman would be able to do so.
SOLE member Ashley Marie Aidenbaum said the task to stop unjust treatment of workers must start with students and then work up to the University, the FLA and lastly, Eddie Bauer.
“The responsibility falls to the students to blow the whistle on this,” Marie said. “It all comes down to us right now.”
The group began the sit-in at 1 p.m. and continued for a few hours. Peterson said the protest was “quite peaceful.”