September 29, 2011

Students Ask Cornell To Cut Ties With FLA

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Students from the Cornell Organization for Labor Action and Cornell Students Against Sweatshops delivered the latest in a series of letters to the University on Sept. 15, continuing their ongoing fight to have Cornell disaffiliate from the Fair Labor Association.

According to its mission statement, the FLA attempts to bring together multiple interested parties to improve working conditions and protect worker’s rights worldwide. This claim has been disputed by COLA and CSAS, which have alleged since 2010 that the FLA certifies companies that violate workers’ rights.

After delivering the letters, COLA and CSAS spoke to President David Skorton following the Student Assembly meeting on Sept. 15.

“I do think the concerns are valid and important,” Skorton said. “The question is where to go from here.”

The recently delivered letters referenced a controversial action by the FLA, which in July certified an Indonesian factory where, according to some activists, supervisors physically abuse workers.

“Given the FLA’s recent certification of the Pou Chen Group factory in Indonesia where workers are suffering from grievous human rights abuses, disaffiliating with the FLA is a time sensitive matter,” COLA President Molly Beckhardt ’14 said.

Students from both organizations met with FLA Executive Director Jorge Perez-Lopez in May, but the meeting failed to resolve the outstanding issues, organizers said.

The meeting prompted the student groups to deliver their first letter to Skorton, which he revised and forwarded to Auret van Heerden, president and CEO of the FLA.

While COLA and CSAS were appreciative of Skorton’s letter, they condemned van Heerden’s July 28 response.

“It’s a fluff piece,” said Molly Beckhardt ’14, president of COLA. The letters delivered in September criticized van Heerden’s response as inadequate.

“The response Cornell University received from Mr. van Heerden on July 28, 2011, was a reiteration of the company line,” the letter stated. “The only change that the FLA proposed was a ‘student stakeholder event,’ a disappointing attempt to compensate for the organization’s lack of equal and legitimate student representation.”

Echoing Skorton, Mike Powers, who oversees the University’s licensing agreements, said the University needs more time to consider all options.

“Whether disaffiliating is the best strategy remains to be seen,” Powers said.

COLA and CSAS members, however, had no such reservations.

“The FLA’s incompetence is actively harming workers around the world,” said Susanne Donovan ’13, president of CSAS. “Unless they reform their practices, there is no reason for Cornell to be affiliated with them.”

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire