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Task force report on sweatshop labor released

by Karen A. Grava - September 7, 2005

A University task force on sweatshop labor has recommended that UConn’s ultimate goal should be for all products bearing its logo to be verifiably “sweat-free.”

The task force, initiated by President Philip E. Austin, completed its work in June. It noted that UConn should not compromise its goal of sweat-free products, but should establish over time a process to help small licensees meet the requirement.

“Protection of every worker’s right to safe working conditions at fair wages represents one of the great challenges in a global economy,” Austin said. “There are no quick fixes. But universities can and should do everything in their power to craft solutions that work. UConn has been a leader in this effort, and the task force provides some excellent suggestions for how we can strengthen our role.”

Sweat-free products are produced in factories that adhere to a set of standards for their workers, including paying adequate wages and overtime compensation; adhering to child labor standards and health and safety regulations; protecting female workers’ rights; and protecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.

Students at many colleges and universities, including UConn, have focused national attention on the manufacture of university-licensed products in factories where workers are not treated fairly. Two major organizations – the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) – were created in the late 1990s to deal with this issue.

The WRC includes representation by colleges, student groups, and non-governmental organizations; UConn was one of the founding schools. The FLA has college representation, but also includes representatives of manufacturers and others.  

The task force, chaired by Mohamed Hussein, professor and head of the accounting department, said implementing verified sweat-free conditions for the production of all licensed goods requires collaboration with like-minded universities. One way to attain this is to work through the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), the organization that permits and manages the licensing of products and logo items from many U.S. colleges and universities, including UConn.

Specifically, the report suggests:

  • having the CLC monitor and strengthen its provisions on child labor and wages;
  • creating a unit within CLC’s auditing department to oversee monitoring and verification that licensed products are made in factories complying with the revised code;
  • developing specific standards and guidelines for monitoring, remediation, and penalties for violations of the revised CLC code of conduct, to which manufacturers must adhere.

“We must not only continue to participate actively within the CLC and the Workers’ Rights Consortium and possibly join with other organizations with similar goals,” says Hussein, “but also to communicate progress to faculty, staff, students, and purchasers of the logo products.”

The task force urged the University to set up a standing committee to ensure its recommendations are followed, and suggested including a spokesperson who can speak for the group and create a webpage to disseminate information.

The report also suggests that the University establish a charitable fund to provide grants for educational, health, and other social services for workers in factories manufacturing its licensed products, and establish support for research on sweatshop labor.

A retail section established last year by the UConn Co-op to sell union-made, sweat-free products was commended in the report.

Members of the task force included Chintan Bhatt and Rachel Weatherington, students; Boris Bravo-Ureta, professor and executive director of the Office of International Affairs; Shareen Hertel, assistant professor of political science; Alanson Minkler, associate professor of economics; Ron Schurin, executive assistant to the president; Bill Simpson, president and general manager of the UConn Co-op; and Tim Tolokan, associate director of athletics for licensing and athletic traditions. The task force was staffed by Moh Sharma, a graduate student.

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