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Columbia Apparel Licensees Agree To Monitoring, Factory Disclosure; University Expands Efforts


There has been a great deal of anti-sweatshop activity on campus in the last year, much of it pursuant to a resolution amended and adopted by the University Senate, April 30, 1999. In that period, Columbia has become a charter member of a large national organization designed to improve conditions for workers, and has required each of its licensees to adhere to that organization's anti-sweatshop Code of Conduct which sets standards for health, safety, earnings, etc. Columbia has added the additional requirement of full factory disclosure (which has been met). In January the university passed its own more expansive Code of Conduct, which also has been sent to all of our licensees. The Columbia Code was initially developed by a Subcommittee of the External Affairs Committee of the Senate, which consisted of faculty, administrators and students, including representatives of Columbia Students Against Sweatshops. Columbia has provided funds for a pilot project to train independent monitors in developing countries. The External Affairs Committee of the Senate continues to study the question of a "living wage," and the Committee as well as the full Senate will reassess certain elements of the university's anti-sweatshop efforts in March. Below is a summary of the current state of anti-sweatshop activity, as well as additional background on key related matters.

Recent Developments

In February Columbia's two largest licensees, Champion Products and Jostens Inc. signed the Code of Workplace Conduct of the Fair Labor Association (the FLA is a monitoring and enforcement organization comprised of more than 130 colleges and universities, businesses, and not-for-profits, including Columbia). These companies have also provided full factory disclosure, a requirement that goes beyond the FLA Code but that Columbia insisted on months ago. Both of these developments occurred after extensive dialogue between the companies and Columbia's Office of Business Services.

Also, the university has sent a letter to Charles Ruff, the Board Chair of the FLA and former White House Counsel, and to Bob Durkee, the university representative on the Board of the FLA, urging them to incorporate the recently passed (January 28, 1999) Columbia Anti-Sweatshop Code into the FLA agenda. Columbia's Code, which goes beyond the FLA Code (and includes language suggested by representatives of Columbia Students Against Sweatshops) has been sent to all Columbia licensees.

The commitment forms and factory disclosure information that Columbia has received from its licensees are available for inspection at the Office of Contract Services in Lerner Hall.

As of late February, 72 of 82 Columbia licensees representing 99% of licensing revenues have signed our FLA Code of Conduct Commitment Form, and 60 of 82 representing 91% of licensing revenues have provided disclosure of factory locations. The licensees who are not in compliance with either requirement have been placed on 90-day notice of license termination. By April 15, 2000, 100% of Columbia's licensees will be in compliance.

Many anti-sweatshop matters remain before the university community. Also much work continues to be done by the FLA in establishing an office, hiring a full staff, and training and accrediting independent monitors. For example, the FLA has recently hired Sam Brown as Executive Director. Brown was formerly Director of the ACTION Agency. He is a lifelong human rights advocate who most recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, helping to implement the Helsinki Accords.

The university Senate through the work of The Committee on External Affairs continues to hold extensive meetings on the question of a "living wage," and is drawing on the expertise of several faculty members in this process. In addition, as required by the Senate, the committee has agreed to review the FLA prior to the March Senate meeting. Before that meeting the committee will hear from representatives of the FLA as well as the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a group supported by United Students Against Sweatshops.

Reaching Out To Licensees

The Senate Committee has worked very closely with the Office of Business Services (OBS) since that department both manages the bookstore contract where most emblematic merchandise is sold and operates the University's Trademark & Licensing Office.

In August, 1999, Bob Moskovitz, Executive Director of Business Services, sent a letter to our licensing agent, the Licensing Resource Group (LRG). It set two important deadlines for Columbia licensees: November 1, 1999 became the deadline for a form committing the licensee to the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct; December 31, 1999 became the deadline for providing full factory disclosure.

The next step was taken on October 1, 1999 when OBS informed our licensing agent that "prior to licensing any new vendors, inform them of our Code of Conduct and Disclosure requirement...and relate that they must comply with both requirements before licensing will be approved".

When the deadlines came and certain licensees had not responded, OBS chose to push harder, in the hope of bringing these licensees on board and into the culture of compliance. In addition OBS opened a more extensive dialogue with key executives at our two largest licensees, Champion Products (a subsidiary of Sara Lee Branded Apparel) and Jostens, Inc. our key resource for college rings. Finally on February 3, 2000 Champion Products signed our Code of Workplace Conduct Commitment Form and provided full factory disclosure. Josten's followed suit on February 15, 2000.


A Chronology of Outreach To Licensees

8/23/99Letter to LRG asking them to send our letter to licensees with Code and Disclosure requirement.
10/1/99Letter to LRG informing them that Code and Disclosure compliance is required before granting new licenses.
10/27/99Letter to Barnes & Noble reviewing our Code and Disclosure requirements and expressing concern that Champion has not yet complied.
11/30/99Letter to licensees thanking them for complying with the Code requirement and reminding them of the disclosure deadline.
11/30/99Letter to licensees who have not complied with the Code requirement informing them that they are on 90 notice of termination.
12/15/99Letter to Barnes & Noble asking for their assistance with licensees who have not complied with the Code requirement.
1/5/00Letter to licensees who have not provided disclosure and informed them that they are on 90-day notice of termination.
2/3/00Champion Products agrees to commit to the FLA Code and provide disclosure.
2/15/00Jostens agrees to commit to the FLA Code and provide disclosure.
2/18/00Letter to all licensees informing them of Columbia's new Code of Conduct and explaining how it will be applied.

Progress of Pilot Program To Train Monitors

Columbia was one of 22 universities last year to contribute to a pilot program to train non-governmental organizations (NGO's) in the FLA monitoring process. The pilot is being conducted under the auspices of the International Labor Rights Fund (IRLF). Successful external monitoring requires the active participation of grassroots groups, and training is an important component of their success.

This program is now underway in three Latin American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), where the training is being coordinated by COVERCO, (Commission for the Verification of Corporate Codes of Conduct), and in Taiwan. The first training program in Guatemala will commence the week of March 13. Jonathan Rosenblum, an ILRF consultant, has just returned from another visit to Guatemala, to gather information for the labor law handbook and other training material. These materials will be completed very soon. Viky Sosa, who will join the ILRF team full time in May, traveled in January to El Salvador as part of a CISPES labor tour. (CISPES is the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.)

More NGO Involvement

The current members of the FLA's NGO Advisory Committee are:

  • Asia-Pacific Center for Justice and Peace
  • Cambodian Labour Organization
  • Cambodian Defenders Project
  • Consumer Federation of America
  • COVERCO (Commission for the Verification of Corporate Codes of Conduct, based in Guatemala)
  • International Human Rights Law Group
  • International Labor Rights Fund
  • Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
  • Made By the Bay
  • Lenore Miller
  • National Consumers League
  • Jim Silk (at the Orville Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, Yale University)
  • Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
  • United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

Published: Feb 29, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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