On Sweatshop Labor: Rodin's & Ad Hoc Committee's Correspondence

From the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sweatshop Labor

The following letter was sent April 20, 2000, to President Judith Rodin from Howard Kunreuther, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sweatshop Labor. (See President Rodin's Response)

The Ad-Hoc Committee on Sweatshop Labor held its final meeting on Tuesday, April 18. The Committee is proud of the work it has undertaken over the past few months, particularly in creating Penn's Code of Workplace Conduct for Apparel Licensees. It is a very stringent and thorough code, which is likely to serve as a model for codes of conduct on other university campuses.

Based on the reports from the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)'s founding conference, and last week's presentation by three representatives of our committee at the Fair Labor Association (FLA) board meeting, we have discussed in detail how the University should proceed at this point. While both groups have acknowledged our concerns, neither group has fully satisfied them, and we are not comfortable joining either organization at this time. We are eager to have both the WRC and FLA modify the role of the university to ensure reasonable balance between financial support and governance.

There is a consensus that the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility that you will be forming is the more appropriate group to make a recommendation on Penn's membership in the WRC and/or the FLA. Our Subcommittee felt you should call the new committee together in the next two weeks. We propose that there be a transitional meeting between members of our committee and the new group. This will enable us to share our concerns and knowledge about the organizations and the issue of sweatshop labor. Members of our committee can provide the new committee with relevant materials, and suggest how they can best inform themselves on the issues. We would then propose that the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility use the summer to educate themselves about the sweatshop labor problem, and monitor the progress of the FLA and WRC. Upon returning in the fall, they should meet and face the membership question head-on.

In the meantime, we will urge the new group to apply the Penn Code of Workplace Conduct for Apparel Licensees immediately, in order to request monitoring reports from vendors. If Penn's apparel vendors do not have monitoring reports available, it is critical that they be asked to establish a self-monitoring system.

This has been an intense and valuable process of fact-finding and discussion. I sincerely believe that all members of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sweatshop Labor have approached the discussions in a fair and respectful way. We made great strides with the creation of the Code, and hope to get the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility off to a running start toward applying and enforcing that Code. That will bring us all closer to the central goal of this whole exercise: improving conditions for workers employed by Penn's apparel licensees.

President Rodin's Response to the Committee

The following letter was sent on April 26 to Dr. Howard Kunreuther from President Judith Rodin.

Thank you for your letter of April 20. I appreciate the committee's hard work this semester. I am particularly pleased with the Code of Workplace Conduct for University of Pennsylvania Apparel Licensees. My thanks to you and all the members of the committee for your significant and thoughtful efforts in this and all your deliberations.

I regret that neither the FLA nor the WRC has fully satisfied the committee's concerns. Since the committee expressed reservations and suggested conditions for joining the WRC or the FLA, I accept the recommendation that we not join either organization at this time. Most notably, the committee's recommendations that there be balanced college and university representation on the governing board and that representation should appropriately reflect the financial obligations being assumed by universities raise serious issues. At the moment, since the WRC is still finalizing its governance structure and the FLA will reconsider its structure at its June board meeting, it seems premature for us to join either organization until they are in a position to act formally on the committee's requests.

I plan to appoint the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility in the coming days and would very much like for you to have the Ad-Hoc Committee hold a transitional meeting with the new committee before the end of the term. I expect that the new committee, as you suggest, will take the summer to get up to speed and monitor the progress of the FLA and the WRC. I will ask the new committee to meet during the first week of the fall semester to consider that progress and whether it meets our concerns sufficiently for Penn to change its position and join either or both of these organizations.

Please express my appreciation to the members of the Ad-Hoc Committee. Your time on this issue was very well spent and your deliberations most valuable.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 31, May 2, 2000