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Vol.25, No. 05 Oct. 1, 1999

University Takes Further Action to Combat Sweatshops

By Lauren Marshall

This spring and summer, Columbia continued its efforts to eradicate any business relationships with companies responsible for maintaining unfair labor practices or sweatshop conditions. In addition to joining the Fair Labor Association, Columbia will also require all manufacturers of University licensed apparel to disclose their manufacturing locations. This is a step most universities have not yet taken.

"It is important that our bookstore offer great quality products that maintain the integrity and enhance the reputation of Columbia," said Bob Moskovitz, Columbia's new executive director for business services. "We will accomplish that with vendors who guarantee decent working conditions because we share the concern of our students that it is the right thing to do."

Since the University joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) as a founding member on March 15, 1999, Columbia has taken the following actions: made a commitment to include student representatives in future meetings of the Ivy sweatshop working group; promised that the University would review the University of Wisconsin's "living wage" study and related information, and committed to monitoring the effectiveness of our FLA affiliation over time.

As an FLA affiliated institution, one of 118 colleges and universities nationwide, Columbia requires all its licensed vendors to obtain FLA certification, which is 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. As a means of monitoring, the FLA can enlist the participation of local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

Going beyond the FLA actions, Moskovitz, sent a letter to the CEO of Columbia's licensing agent Licensing Resource Groups (LRG). The letter stated the University's policy requiring all Columbia licensed vendors to adhere to the FLA Code of Conduct by fully disclosing their manufacturing locations.

Licensees are required to sign a commitment statement by Nov. 1, 1999, insuring good working conditions as stated in the FLA Code of Conduct and to post the Code in all factories. Disclosure information on factory locations should be provided by Dec. 31,1999. Barnes and Noble College Bookstores also announced that all its vendors agreed to the FLA code with the exception of four or five small companies. Of those, none make products carried in the Columbia University Book Store. Following three requests to agree to the FLA code, Barnes and Noble has notified non-compliant companies that it will cease to do business with them.

On June 22, a meeting was held in Washington, DC, to create a University Advisory Council of the Fair Labor Association. Columbia is a charter member of the university council.

Also in June, council representatives formalized the creation of a one-year pilot designed to provide on-the-job training for NGOs in four countries in Asia and Latin America and to develop material and protocols that the FLA can use in future NGO training programs throughout the world. The project was created under the auspices of the International Labor Rights Fund.

In addition, the University Advisory Council formally requested action by the FLA Board to reinforce FLA provisions regarding women's rights. Those provisions included: equal remuneration for work; the prohibition of employment criteria based on reproductive status, including the requirement of pregnancy tests or the use of contraception as a condition of employment; actions to protect women's reproductive health, and appropriate accommodation in the event of pregnancy, including prohibition of dismissal or threat of dismissal, loss of seniority or deduction of wages as a result of maternity leave.

The meeting was attended by representatives from Columbia, 44 of the 118 partnering colleges and universities, the Association of Collegiate Licensing Administrators (ACLA), the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), the Licensing Resource Group (LRG) and five students.

A symposium on the living wage issue is scheduled to take place in November in Wisconsin, and will include student representatives. The Council also identified topics for future consideration, including: public disclosure, monitoring, third-party complaints and the percentages of unannounced factory inspections and of factories monitored under the FLA, especially with respect to university licensees. The discussion of student involvement continued at the Council meeting.

And, as charged by the University Senate, a subcommittee of the committee on external affairs held its first meeting on Sept. 23, to help further develop Columbia's anti-sweatshop policies.