The University of Wisconsin's endorsement of a licensing proposal that could lower the amount of UW-licensed apparel produced in sweatshops was discussed Friday by the Labor and Licensing Policy Committee.
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.
During Friday's meeting, members of the LLPC met with Dawn Crim, special assistant to Chancellor John Wiley, to discuss the merits of UW's endorsement of the program.
"[Wiley is] working closely with the Workers Rights Consortium to see what type of implementation is going to be possible," Crim told the committee.
Currently, 152 universities belong to the WRC; however, only 11 have clear policies on DSP, including UW, Duke and Georgetown. This number is up from seven a week ago — when UW first endorsed the program — but is not anywhere near the "critical mass" Crim said is being sought.
Members of the Student Labor Action Coalition — which demanded Wiley endorse the DSP more than three weeks ago — were on hand to voice their concerns about the specific language UW endorsed.
"I'm somewhat concerned about the language of the union apparel demand," SLAC representative Joel Feingold said.
Feingold said he feared there were loopholes in the proposal for employers to tax resources and prevent employees from forming unions.
"Individual workers' rights to choose is the core of this policy, philosophically," Feingold said.
Other members of SLAC echoed Feingold's sentiment, saying they wanted to ensure the "strongest, tightest language" possible was endorsed — and ultimately adopted — by UW.
However, despite some skepticism, most LLPC members remained positive about UW's endorsement of the DSP, saying they were "very satisfied" with Wiley's decision.
SLAC representative Liana Dalton said she was pleased UW was taking a leadership role on the issue, and the DSP proposal was most likely the best way to address it.
The importance of schools supporting the DSP was reiterated throughout the meeting because, according to many committee members, companies like Adidas will hear their combined voice.
Some committee members noted the increased importance of this communication after some abuses were exposed in an Adidas factory.
As Adidas is the main supplier of UW-licensed apparel, the university was given access to the company's records regarding factories, Crim said, a privilege not provided to any other school.
To study the treatment of workers, UW selected 20 Adidas factories around the globe and analyzed the factories' records.
While Crim admitted "issues do exist in [the] factories" and that it is "not a perfect situation," she said she liked the fact that Adidas opened its records for inspection.
A specific case involving the Hermosa factory in El Salvador was mentioned where gross abuses had occurred, including sexual harassment and denial of back pay, which ultimately resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of the plant's owner.
SLAC pushed for UW to write a letter to Adidas expressing its disapproval.
"This is a clear situation where the code of conduct has been violated," Feingold said.