The Worker’s Rights Consortium’s (WRC) governing board met on Oct. 7 to establish the organization as a legitimate monitor of college apparel manufacturers.
At the meeting, the WRC wrote bylaws that established that its purpose “is to promote socially responsible initiatives by universities and colleges, and by manufacturers … for the improvement of working conditions in domestic and global production of [college apparel].”
Members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national student organization, developed the WRC in response to what they considered the unfair monitoring practices of the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
Writing the bylaws for the organization is “the last legal step to becoming an organization,” said David Unger ’02, president of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS).
There are 10 members of the governing board, five undergraduate and graduate students and five faculty, elected by members of USAS. According to Unger, this was the first meeting of the full governing board.
The board members worked on “institution building,” said Daniel Long, a student governing board member, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The Governing Board began the process of becoming a non-profit organization. “We’re guaranteed non-profit status according to the lawyer we’ve been working with,” Long said. Long added that the process should take about six months.
Once the federal government recognizes the WRC as a non-profit organization, it cannot tax universities’ membership dues. The WRC will spend those dues on implementing and strengthening “protocols for [factory workers’] complaints and monitoring [factory conditions],” Long said.
The governing board is beginning its apparel factory monitoring process with the implementation of three pilot projects which are slated to begin by the end of the year. They will take place at three factories in three different countries and will develop “a protocol for [handling workers’] complaints [and] codes of contact with NGOs [Non Governmental Organizations],” Long said.
Contact with NGOs is essential to the WRC’s goal of improving factory conditions, since NGOs are independent groups that have direct contact with factory workers and can log complaints and report them to the WRC.
Cornell has disclosed the location and contact information of factories which manufacture University apparel, according to Bob Reese, director of budget in the Office of the Vice President of University Relations. “We gave a copy to SAS [Students Against Sweatshops] of all that we could get from our licensing agent, CLC [Collegiate Licensing Company],” Reese said.
The list consisted of a “sizable number of manufacturers from all over the world,” Reese added. “The goal is to know where stuff is being manufactured [so that] local NGOs can determine where there are [worker’s rights] issues.”
The WRC held its founding conference on Apr. 7, and Cornell joined a few weeks later.
Some universities initially questioned the legitimacy of the WRC and its efforts, but between the months of March and April, membership grew from 13 to 44 colleges and universities. That number is 62 to date, according to student governing board member Lauren Stephens-Davidowitz, a sophomore at Yale University.
Compared to the WRC, the FLA’s monitoring system includes manufacturers like Nike Inc., Reebok Inc., and other sports apparel companies in monitoring the factories that produce their university sports apparel.
“Almost half of the FLA’s board consists of representatives of corporations,” Stephens-Davidowitz said. “The FLA’s method of monitoring will not ensure [fair labor conditions].”
Long added that the WRC is committed to implementing “independent spot checks and … helping NGOs develop their own capacity for monitoring.”
Reese promised that Cornell will “continue to work with the WRC to try to achieve all of these objectives.”
Archived article by Maggie Frank