Continuing an effort to improve working conditions worldwide, Cornell University recently renewed its membership in two non-profit organizations committed to eliminating sweatshop labor. The organizations are the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
Cornell’s involvement with the FLA began in 1996 when Cornell was among 17 colleges and universities brought together to address labor rights standards. The FLA now has grown to include 174 member colleges and universities. Cornell affiliated with the WRC in 2000, largely due to the efforts of the student labor movement and since has mushroomed from only 20 colleges and universities to 92 colleges and universities today.
In an April 3 University press release, President Hunter R. Rawlings III stated, “Cornell is proud to have been among the founding members of both the Workers Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association and to have played a role in their growth and development. I am proud to continue our commitment to this cause.”
Although the FLA and the WRC share similar goals, their policies and organizational structure differ. Where the FLA involves corporate manufacturers and consumer groups in addition to labor and human rights organizations, the WRC is made up exclusively of anti-sweatshop groups and colleges and universities.
“The FLA has a broader mandate than the WRC. It is not as university focused, but looks at clothing and apparel across the board,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations and Cornell’s delegate to the WRC.
Commenting on Cornell’s decision to join the WRC, in addition to its previous membership in the FLA, Dullea said, “we felt both [organizations] were important vehicles for getting this message across to companies that manufacture clothing and other apparel worn by members of the University community.”
A number of Cornell students involved with the anti-sweatshop movement, although supportive of the WRC, expressed reservation about the University’s continued involvement with the FLA.
“The FLA doesn’t fully serve the purpose of preventing sweatshops, but instead often just hides [sweatshops],” said David Unger ’02, former president of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS), personally involved in affiliating Cornell with the WRC.
Although Unger said he does not question the University’s dedication to making sure Cornell apparel is not made in sweatshops, he contended that the FLA to some extent maintains the status quo and that Cornell has erred in their continued participation with the FLA.
Andres Blanco ’03, current president of CSAS, explained that although CSAS is positive about continued participation with the FLA, the group is more positive about involvement with the WRC.
“The FLA is pro-labor and we definitely want to be a part of any organization that is pro-labor. However, the WRC is far more pro-labor and pushes issues further than does the FLA,” said Blanco.
Comparing the FLA and the WRC, Blanco pointed to what he characterized as a far less-extensive policy the FLA has for company disclosure of means of production.
“Where under the FLA a company can basically give the contact name of one person and keep a sweatshop totally hidden, the WRC requires that disclosure go through the whole line of production making it harder to hide a sweatshop,” said Blanco.
In defense of Cornell’s continued involvement with the FLA, Dullea claimed that “the FLA has been evolving in terms of increased disclosure” and later said, “what we thought would happen is happening, both organizations are now working together.”
Dullea mentioned a number of examples of cooperation between the two organizations, including a recent investigation in the Dominican Republic on which the Executive Director of the WRC accompanied an FLA delegation as an observer.
“If the leadership of the FLA and the WRC are working together, it doesn’t make sense to say we should withdraw from one of the organizations when they each have unique and important strengths to bring to the table,” said Dullea. “You don’t have to be for one [organization] or the other, and being for one [organization] does not mean you are against the other. You have two organizations committed to the same objectives and both are doing a lot of good. We’re glad we were among the first to be members and we are going to continue down that path.”
Archived article by Harrison Leavens