Last week, labor activist Jeffrey Ballenger filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission charging that the University of Michigan, along with Nike, ESPN and the University of Oregon are violating federal regulations on the disclosure of where garments are produced.
Ballinger claims that the University”s website, along with the other parties, do not adequately meet the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act and the Wool Products Labeling Act by indicating the countries where their apparel is produced.
In 1999, the FTC found Wal-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory and other apparel manufacturers guilty of not disclosing the country of origin of garments advertised on their websites and in catalogues. As the nation is becoming more conscious of labor abuses in the apparel industry, a number of organizations, including Nike and various universities, including the University of Michigan, have made attempts to make the apparel industry more transparent via official public disclosure websites.
The aim is quite simple: Regain the public trust in the apparel industry that has been harmed in the past few years through exposure of abuses in the system by labor activists. But if the very websites that aim to create a greater sense of accountability do not meet federal regulations requiring disclosure of where their apparel is produced, then the public cannot fully trust the information.
Ballinger, of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Press for Change, Inc., told the Daily last week that Nike has 95 staff members in its corporate responsibility division. For an organization the size of Nike to overlook federal regulations governing public disclosure after the FTC called out other companies two years ago is greatly irresponsible. It also perpetuates the mistrust that surrounds the company.
Although this may create a headache for the University General Counsel”s office, it is an important issue. University General Counsel Marvin Krislov said that the University will investigate Ballinger”s claims and takes the accusations very seriously.
As a leader in progressive labor standards for its apparel manufacturers, the University has one of the most strict collegiate apparel codes in the nation. Although the administration has been stubborn at certain times in the past in pushing for change, we hope that Ballinger”s claims are adequately investigated and not thrown on the back burner as student labor activists leave for the summer.
If the FTC investigates and finds the University in violation of the law, the administration must do everything possible to rectify the situation. Only then can all the information published on these websites be be trusted fully.