In an effort to reduce the amount of University of Wisconsin licensed apparel produced in sweatshops, UW administration endorsed a proposal Tuesday that could potentially change the university's licensing policy.
The announcement comes less than three weeks after the Student Labor Action Coalition occupied Chancellor John Wiley's office demanding he adopt the proposal.
"The university accepted the proposal … which students have been advocating for since September," said Special Assistant to the Chancellor LaMarr Billups. "Everything they asked for they got."
The provisions of proposal, called the "Designated Suppliers Program," would require 25 percent of UW-licensed apparel to be produced in factories allowing "legitimate representative labor union[s] or other representative employee bod[ies]." It would also make licensees pay a higher price per item, so factories could afford to pay their workers a living wage.
The factories would be monitored by the Workers' Rights Consortium — an international human rights watchdog organization — to make sure they comply with the standards specified in the DSP.
However, Billups said UW's endorsement of the DSP will not result in a direct change in the university's licensing policy as of yet, since the DSP involves a number of universities working in concert with one another on the issue.
Only seven universities have signed on to the DSP, which Billups said is not nearly the "critical mass" of universities needed to exact any significant change.
"If the University of Wisconsin did it alone, nothing is going to happen," Billups said. "By ourselves, we're not going to affect any change. We need some allies."
SLAC representatives supported the UW administration's decision to endorse the proposal, so long as the endorsement leads to action.
"It's a step in the right direction, and we're pleased with that," SLAC representative Molly Glasgow said, adding that a "couple of issues" still needed to be worked out.
Glasgow said SLAC is looking for the "strongest and tightest" language possible regarding the rights of workers to join unions.
"We demand that all factories have a union and that it is called a 'union,'" Glasgow said. "'Representation' or a comparable body … factories can get around that. It needs to be a union, otherwise factories won't comply."
The UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee — which includes members of SLAC — will meet Billups' assistant Friday to further discuss the issue.
Billups himself will be at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives from other universities to discuss strategies to move beyond endorsing the DSP and implementing it.
"We can't just pass and implement a policy that has no possibility of success," Billups said. "We need to create a policy other universities and licensees can buy into."
The announcement to endorse the DSP was coupled with the decision to cut a pilot program originally launched to lower the amount of UW apparel produced in sweatshops.
Though the pilot program was intended to last one year, it was cancelled less than four months after its implementation.
While Chancellor Wiley previously spoke in support of the pilot program, SLAC representatives often criticized it, demanding immediate action.