Apparel Task Force issues report
The UH Apparel Task Force, a committee formed by UH President Renu Khator to determine the University’s involvement in sweatshop labor for UH-branded apparel, issued its final report Monday.
The report concluded that UH does not knowingly or intentionally sell or license apparel manufactured under sweatshop conditions. The Task Force also reported both UH and Barnes ‘ Noble, the University’s primary seller, are taking appropriate steps to ensure workers’ rights.
The Task Force based its findings on meetings conducted as a group, meetings with Barnes ‘ Noble representatives, separate research, discussion and trips overseas to evaluate working conditions.
"One of the professors and Task Force members visited China, where they have seen significant improvement," said professor Richard Alderman, Apparel Task Force member.
In the report, the committee members emphasized the importance of eliminating sweatshop practices, but also conceded that a global problem such as sweatshop labor has many consequences that are difficult to predict.
"It’s clear that nobody knows the trickle-down effect and end result (of intervention). You try to do the best you can to achieve the best result, but the impact on the workers is difficult to determine. If a factory is closed and they lose their job, that’s obviously not the best result," Alderman said.
The Task Force recommended that UH join the Workers Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors workers’ rights with more than 170 nationwide university affiliates. The Task Force also recommended that UH join the Fair Labor Association, adopt its Workplace Code of Conduct and make clear to any apparel suppliers that UH expects them to follow it.
The code outlines labor practices that must be followed, prohibiting the use of forced labor, child labor, harassment and minimum wage requirements, among others. To read the complete code, visit www.fairlabor.org/all/code.
The Task Force did not recommend for UH to join the Designated Suppliers Program, citing its relative infancy and lack of information regarding its effectiveness and legality. The DSP requires a portion of a university’s apparel be sourced from factories that demonstrate compliance with internationally recognized labor standards.
Apparel Task Force student representative and Student Government Association Senate member Stephen Quezada said the Task Force was correct in not recommending the DSP.
"The Designated Suppliers Program is an organization that wants to extend control over the manufacturers. This was the right decision to make," Quezada said.
In a statement, UH President Khator accepted the Task Force’s recommendation to join the Fair Labor Association and adopt its Code of Conduct. Khator said the University will not take any action regarding the DSP and expressed concerns regarding the adoption of the WRC.
"We have concerns about the lack of information about the organization’s operating methods and sources of support," Khator said.
Khator said she has asked the General Counsel to consult with the Texas Attorney General to see if there is a legal reason UH should not join, as no other Texas university has.
The Task Force emphasized that sweatshop labor is an ongoing issue that will require further cooperation.
"We hope that this isn’t swept under the rug," Alderman said. "We did what we can do at this point. We hope students continue to stay involved and keep this issue at a forefront."