Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sweatshops and the University of Michigan

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Most of the clothes we wear are produced in Global South countries. Wages are lower, after all. Producers do have to lower their costs to stay in business, and it's natural that they would seek lower wage costs.

However, the problem comes where there's no minimum wage, no controls on the number of hours worked, no environmental protections, and no protection for workers who try to unionize. Here, the drive to minimize costs comes at a real cost to workers. They have to put food on the table for their families, so they have no bargaining power.

Most companies oppose unions. There are exceptions; Harley Davidson has generally good relationships with its unions (apart from the recent strike), and Cingular stated that it would not oppose its workers joining unions. But exceptions like these prove the rule. Even in the US, which has formal protections guaranteeing the right to organize and bargain collectively, many companies engage in questionable tactics to prevent unions from forming.

At the University of Michigan, there is a campaign to get the University to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program:

"University logo apparel goods will be sourced from a set of designated supplier factories that have been determined by universities to have affirmatively demonstrated full and consistent respect for the rights of their employees. In addition to respect for the standards currently embodied in university codes of conduct, these factories will also be required to meet two additional standards: demonstrable respect for rights of association – as evidenced by the presence of a legitimate, representative union or other representative employee body – and the payment of a livable wage. University licensees will pay these factories prices for their products sufficient to allow factories to achieve these standards, prices which will represent modest increases over industry norms, and will be expected to maintain the kind of long-term relationships with these factories necessary to allow for a reasonable degree of financial stability and job security. These factories will produce primarily or exclusively for the university logo goods market."

The Program contains stipulations for workplace standards, pricing of orders, monitoring, transparency, and enforcement. The University previously relied on its Code of Conduct, which specified standards that the University had to adhere to when sourcing apparel. It was rarely enforced. Those factories that did enforce it became uncompetitive, and went out of business. However, the University has not done anything about it. Although 30 other Universities signed the DSP, the U of M has refused to do so.

12 students from Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality sat in at the President's office yesterday. They were arrested, and President Coleman apparently instructed the county prosecutor to press misdemanor charges. Apparently, President Coleman only told them that she does not accede to demands from students. This demonstrates arrogance and a lack of accountability, as well as a lack of concern for human rights.

No comments: