A cool sigh of relief lingered through the final seconds of
yesterday morning’s meeting of the University’s Labor
Standards and Human Rights Committee, as members agreed on a
proposal to recommend that the University make the wages of factory
workers producing school apparel publicly available.

Prompted by pressure from Students Organizing for Labor and
Economic Equality for the University to implement a wage disclosure
policy, members of the committee have debated the issue since March
13.

Seeing it as a potentially productive method to monitor
companies’ compliance with proper wage standards, committee
members have reviewed possible proposals while examining the
effectiveness of implementing such a policy over the past few
weeks.

The seven-member committee voted unanimously to recommend to the
University President Mary Sue Coleman a proposal to implement a
wage disclosure policy.

Coleman is expected respond to the committee’s
recommendation today.

Saying she was pleased with the proposal, Kristin McRay, a SOLE
representative and committee member said, “Now that we can
recommend a proposal, we can move forward (on the
issue).”

The first clause of the proposal recommends to Coleman that the
University should “obtain accurate, verifiable and
transparent wage data” from all companies with licenses to
produce products with the University name.

While the specific process of obtaining the wage data has yet to
be formed, the proposal also recommends the University engage in
further talks with noncompliant companies on a case-by-case basis.
Moreover, the document also urges the University to work with
groups such as the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor
Association, which verify license compliance, to develop a
systematic method to obtain accurate wage data.

Other recommendations include discussing the issue with the
University of Wisconsin — another college also in the works
of a wage disclosure policy — and with certain apparel
companies to open up future dialogue on carrying out the
policy.

McRay said she is hopeful President Coleman will agree with the
committee’s recommendations. “She’s put a lot of
emphasis on it, so hopefully she’ll take this recommendation
seriously,” McRay added.

Despite the achievement of agreeing to a proposal, the committee
potentially faces a flurry of other problems in attempting to
formulate a wage disclosure policy. During the meeting, members
also listened to third-party perspectives on the issue, explaining
potential difficulties to the policy.

“The closer you get to disclosing information, the closer
you get to an anti-trust issue,” said Stan Bies, University
assistant general counsel. Bies highlighted that a key problem with
large apparel companies, such as Nike, is the fear that other
companies could calculate the production costs of their products if
wages are disclosed publicly. Hence, the wage data could give their
competitors an edge, he added.

Obtaining accurate data will also be tricky, as many smaller
businesses have no direct management over the sweatshops’
factories, said Rut Tufts, FLA executive director. Factories often
will fabricate data, and it is costly and time-consuming for
companies to conduct thorough wage inspections, he added.
“The problem is in trying to find companies who are willing
to crack down on these factories,” Tufts said.

Regardless of the difficulties, Scott Nova, WRC executive
director, said a University wage disclosure policy could still have
widespread ramifications as it may raise conversations among
companies and spur awareness on unjust wage practices.

By obtaining wage disclosures, it will compel companies to have
conversations with their factories over wages and lead to active
compliance rather than companies making assumptions that their
factories are compliant, said Nova.

“If you want compliance across the board, you need a
culture of compliancy,” he said.Committee members agreed with
Nova’s assertions, but members also said the potential
obstacles faced should be undemanding to companies.

They explained that because every company who has a license with
the University agrees in the contract that all its workers are paid
the minimum wage, all companies should have data on their workers,
which they are permitted to disclose.

As for now, the committee meetings will continue, with another
scheduled for the early morning of April 16 in the School of Social
Work.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.