Record Banner
Vol. 24, No. 19 April 2,1999

Columbia Adopts Anti-Sweatshop Policy; University Senate Hears Debate on the Issue

To help insure that products bearing the University's name are not produced under sweatshop conditions, Columbia University recently revealed a new set of anti-sweatshop policies.

These policies, announced March 15, have been developed in active cooperation with other Ivy League institutions. The full details of the plan are contained in a letter sent recently by Ivy League Presidents to a group of concerned students. In sum, the new policy will:

Commit Columbia to an affiliation with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), and require that all Columbia licensees get FLA certification. This certification will be based on the results of the monitoring of outside companies, contractors and suppliers for child labor conditions and for health and safety concerns, among other issues. The FLA requires the participation of local Non-Governmental Organizations in monitoring.

Require full public disclosure of factory locations where licensed products are made.

Include student representatives in future meetings of the Ivy Sweatshop working group.

Insure that the University reviews the University of Wisconsin "living wage" study, and related information.

Below is coverage of the University Senate's discussion on this issue:

FROM THE SENATE: Debate on How to Fight Sweatshops


On March 26 the University Senate heard an impromptu debate between President George Rupp and Columbia student activist Greg Smith about the most effective way to oppose the use of sweatshop labor in the production of apparel bearing the University's name or logo. The discussion, which the External Relations Committee will consider as it decides whether to present its own resolution to the Senate on April 30, recalled the broad outlines of the divestment debates of the 1980s.

Smith, a graduate student in sociology and member of Columbia Students Against Sweatshops, received unanimous consent to speak. He praised the administration for its commitment to opposing sweatshops (see story, page 1), but sharply criticized its recent decision to pursue that cause by joining the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a monitoring group that includes apparel manufacturers, nonprofit organizations and government representatives.

Smith said the FLA's structure, with clothing companies taking up about half of the seats on the board, assured that the association's code of conduct would remain ineffectual. He called on the Senate to urge the University to insist on baseline standards for working conditions that include a "living wage," respect for health and safety and women's rights, full disclosure of factory locations and truly independent monitoring; and to ask the University to leave the FLA as soon as possible and to develop a stronger code of conduct, with genuine student participation, and in association with some other group.

Rupp, in response, stressed that sweatshops are an important issue to several segments of the Columbia community, which should be working together rather than fighting each other. He also stressed that Columbia's revenues from licensed apparel are small, and that the University's efforts, to be effective, must be in concert with other institutions. That was the reason why Columbia had joined with the other Ivy schools and nine other institutions in the FLA in mid-March. (Since then, 11 other institutions had signed on.)

Rupp noted that there was already agreement on many issues raised by student activists, including the requirement of full disclosure of factory locations. He challenged Smith's critique of the FLA on several points, and urged External Relations to review these, as well as the baseline standards that a code of conduct should have, in order to make an intelligent judgment about whether Columbia should stay in the FLA. He noted that the association had already taken stronger positions against sweatshops in response to pressure from universities.

In other business, the Senate passed two proposals from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for master's degrees in regional studies: one on East Asia, the other on Russia, Eurasia and Eastern Europe. The Senate adopted both proposals-which had been criticized as possibly overlapping existing programs-by voice vote, with one nay and several abstentions. Several senators agreed that the problem of overlapping programs requires constant attention.

Sen. Luciano Rebay (Ten., Arts & Sciences) withdrew a request he had made in February for a statement from the President about the importance of Senate service. He acknowledged that it was not the President's role to exhort the faculty to attend meetings. He also gave some statistics on attendance by tenured senators: 11 of 33 had attended none of the six previous Senate meetings this year, and five others had attendedonly one or two.