FROM THE PRESIDENT: On Membership in WRC and FLA

The following letter was sent by President Judith Rodin to Dr. Gregory Possehl and
the members of the Committee for Manufacturer Responsibility on December 13. The
Committee had sent a letter on November 20 to the President along with a Majority
Opinion and a Minority Opinion.

Response to the Committee for Manufacturer Responsibility

Dear Dr. Possehl and members of the Committee:

Thanks for your letter of recommendation. I am very grateful for the time and effort the Committee has spent discussing the topic of fair labor. I understand the strong feelings surrounding this complex issue and appreciate the thoughtful process by which you came to a conclusion. Your careful consideration and analysis of the two monitoring organizations, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA), have provided me with extremely useful insight in making a decision.

I would like to highlight some of the salient facts noted in your report, along with some other useful information that has been made available this term:

  • Both of these organizations are young and untested, and neither of them has yet begun to monitor the apparel industry.
  • Both the WRC and the FLA have sound values and strong ties to international human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • The founders and staff of both organizations appear committed to improving working conditions for international labor.
  • Both the WRC and the FLA have strong Codes of Conduct, in harmony with Penn's values and our own Code.
  • Approximately 15 other Colleges and Universities now belong to both organizations, including Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Michigan among others.
  • There are important differences in approach between the WRC and the FLA. The WRC is charged primarily with monitoring apparel companies that make goods bearing the identification of colleges and universities. The FLA is charged with monitoring the apparel industry world-wide, whether apparel is made for college and university use, or the general public.
  • The scale and mission of the FLA and the WRC are complementary. In many ways, the WRC provides access to a relatively small, focused monitoring organization, where, by and large, college and university needs set the agenda. The FLA works in a much larger arena, becoming engaged in monitoring the apparel industry internationally, addressing sweatshop issues wherever they are found, not just those concerned with our licensees.
  • The WRC and the FLA approach the monitoring of the international apparel industry somewhat differently. The WRC will monitor the apparel industry in three ways: 1) response to worker complaints, 2) industry disclosure and self-policing, and 3) the selective use of field teams to respond to chronic, repeated reports of labor abuse and tolerance of sweatshop conditions. The FLA will also use industry disclosure and self-policing and will respond to worker complaints. Further, the FLA will have an extensive, pro-active monitoring program, fielding a large number of national and international inspection teams that will enter workshops, interview workers and seek out full knowledge of working conditions, on the spot.
  • The WRC has grown and changed over the past year. It has formed a Governing Board and an Advisory Board, and appointed an executive director. Policies are being implemented and plans are being made to test the "complaint response" form of monitoring. The WRC also continues to reach out to NGOs around the world informing them of the WRC's presence and mission.
  • The WRC has five seats on its Board dedicated to college and university representation. They also have five student representatives there. By joining the WRC, Penn gains significant influence at the Board and policy level.
  • The FLA also has made several significant changes since the final report of Penn's Ad Hoc Committee on Sweatshops. The FLA has replaced US-based accounting firms with local NGOs in all monitoring. The FLA also has appointed an NGO Advisory Council, with 23 labor and human rights organizations. They continue to reach out to NGOs around the world informing them of the FLA's presence and mission. The FLA expects to officially begin its monitoring program following the January meeting of the FLA board.
  • The FLA has been aggressively enhancing its NGO training program that 22 schools, led by the eight Ivies and St. John's, launched in June of 1999. This program has been preparing NGOs for factory monitoring in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Taiwan ­ four apparel-producing countries where companies operate that supply university licensees, and where sweatshop practices have been revealed. It has further demonstrated the commitment of colleges and universities to active NGO participation in the FLA and in illustrating an important way in which colleges and universities have helped shape the priorities and capacities of the FLA.
  • The FLA has organized a University Advisory Council Executive Committee with 15 University Representatives. Members of the Committee recently met with a dozen major licensees to answer their questions and respond to their concerns.
  • The full FLA board will vote this month on a proposition to add an additional University seat.

Despite the progress of both groups, it seems clear that neither organization has yet completed all the necessary preparations for the monitoring tasks at hand; each has more to do. Our involvement with each will allow us to continue to work towards the growth and development of full-fledged monitoring programs.

I have benefited from the continuing efforts of PSAS on behalf of the WRC. Their commitment and staunch belief in the work of the WRC have influenced my thinking significantly about the organization. I also appreciate the recent analysis of the Undergraduate Assembly. The UA reasoned that membership in both monitoring organizations will enhance the University's ability to ensure that University-licensed apparel is made under acceptable working conditions, and I find little to challenge in the UA's position. The UA's rationale, along with PSAS' and others', has been very helpful, and I am grateful for their thoughtful analysis and commitment to this complex issue.

I concur, in the end with the Committee's recommendation that Penn join the 15 other universities and colleges that have become members of both the WRC and the FLA. I believe the two organizations complement each other, and Penn should remain a member of both so long as the two organizations continue to operate in a complementary, non-duplicative manner. The Committee for Manufacturer Responsibility will follow the progress of both organizations closely. Its members should review annually the effectiveness of the organizations conducting monitoring to ensure compliance with the Code of Workplace Conduct for Penn Apparel Licensees and take appropriate steps to ensure effective monitoring.

As we proceed as a member of both organizations, I encourage continuing, constructive discourse on campus in support of our common goal--ensuring that items bearing Penn's name are made under safe and humane conditions. I look forward to the spring symposium on campus that you are planning.

Thank you again for all of your efforts.




Judith Rodin

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 16, December 19, 2000