February 19, 2002

I.C. Enlists With Worker Rights Board

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Ithaca College has officially announced its intention to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a nonprofit organization comprised of university and college administrators, students and labor experts.

The association encourages affiliates to adopt a code of conduct that ensures the rights of workers who manufacture goods bearing the names of member universities and colleges. As of December 2001 the WRC had 92 affiliates, including Cornell.

Strength in Numbers

According to Dave Maley of Ithaca College’s Office of Public Information, the decision to apply for membership in the WRC came after four months of a close examination of the organization by the college, partially in response to the urging of student groups .

“The [formal] decision was made Feb. 1, ultimately by President Williams, but Brian McAree, the vice president for student affairs and campus life, along with Carl Sgrecci, the vice president and treasurer, jointly sent a letter to students who had been asking the college to join the WRC, announcing the college had, after evaluating and discussing, decided to join,” Maley said.

From this point, “We’re planning to move ahead [with our promise] and don’t plan on delaying anything,” said Peggy Williams, President of Ithaca College. According to Williams, the decision to join the WRC was made in accordance with the college’s commitment to human rights and with the support and encouragement of student groups.

Last November, a number of student organizations, along with the Economics department, sponsored a teach-in to educate the Ithaca College communit

sweatshop labor. Representatives from the National Labor Commission and laborers from an alleged sweatshop in Bangladesh spoke about inadequate wages, an atmosphere of intimidation and exploitation at a factory that produces apparel for various universities and colleges in the United States. Following the event, students brought a petition to the president’s office to join the WRC. According to Lucas Shapiro, a member of the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), the administration was “warm to the idea.”

“The anti-sweatshop movement has been one of the most effective campaigns on college campuses across the country,” said Shapiro.

Many student leaders stressed the importance of this decision as a means to publicize the continuous fight for worker’s rights and to promote student involvement.

“A [great benefit] of this movement is the public education issue, trying to get students aware of … how products are produced, where they’re made, what resources makes them. They have the power to lobby and support workers,” Shapiro said.

“This [decision] definitely shows that Ithaca College is trying to show itself off as a progressive organization,” said Joey Cronen, Co-Chair of the Young Democratic Socialists.

Ithaca College is also a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a non-profit organization that aims to protect the rights of workers. The FLA was formed in 1996 in an action by the White House to merge other labor rights organizations, but has been criticized for an alleged conflict of interest for the membership of manufacturing corporations, such as Nike. Some suggest that corporate involvement in the FLA may lead to lax monitoring practices.

According to Andres Blanco ’03, president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, the WRC conducts unannounced investigations by local non-governmental organizations, while the FLA inspections are scheduled and conducted by company-affiliated inspectors.

Many consider the “FLA a cover-up organization and that the amount of corporate control over makes it like foxes guarding the hen house,” said Dave Unger ’02, a member of Students Against Sweatshops at Cornell.

“The WRC is more proactive. If workers have a complaint they can appeal to the WRC [directly], whereas the FLA relies on inspection [to monitor factory situations]” said Joey Cronen, Co-Chair of the Young Democratic Socialists at Ithaca College.

President Williams expressed her belief that membership in both organizations would only benefit the college’s monitoring efforts.

Cornell joined the FLA in the spring of 1999 and the WRC the following year.

Membership in the WRC requires a $1000 membership fee or for more profitable, generally larger, universities, a percentage from sales after revenue.

Archived article by Laura Rowntree