Indiana University Anti-Sweatshop Committee – Dec. 12, 2008

WRC Updates

                The committee had not met since the June WRC caucus at Georgetown University.  After a round of introductions, including welcoming Valerie Gill, Director of Licensing and Trademarks, and Thomas Ellis, Asst. Director of Purchasing, the committee began the task of catching up.  Several messages from the Workers Rights Consortium were emailed to the committee prior to the meeting.  One of these contained a link to the annual report for 2007-08.  The report was issued in Sept. of 2008, and detailed efforts on behalf of some 17-18,000 workers (roughly, from a quick read) around the world in its 80 plus pages.  It can be accessed online at http://www.workersrights.org/linkeddocs/WRCReportToAffiliates_20072008.pdf.

                Valerie Gill spoke about the June 5 University Caucus, which brought together representatives from at least 18 universities.  One topic discussed there was a pilot program of the Knight apparel company.  Workers in certain countries (e.g. Haiti) would earn a living wage, earning twice as much as those with similar positions in the industry elsewhere.  By creating goodwill among workers and buyers, Knight hopes to market a value-added product, with resulting commitments from retailers leading to steadily greater volumes of sales.  Another project is the Global Rights Survey, conducted in 50 factories in 20 countries.  Data is yet to be compiled in this effort.

                The Designated Suppliers Program was also discussed at the caucus, as well as in a conference call held soon after.  Implementation has been delayed due to anti-trust issues; pending new appointments at the Dept. of Justice, it will take some time before the proposal can be submitted for a favorable letter of intent.  Other concerns relate to the graduated targets for volume of goods purchased per university , as well as living wage standards for various factory locations.  The WRC still has to work out how participating universities can market these DSP products.  It was mentioned, also, that other companies must not be seen to be penalized for not participating.  A question was asked as to whether the sagging economy would affect the sales of University-branded products.  Valerie noted that, since business runs in 6-month cycles, the downturn was not affecting orders yet.  Also, since university related goods represent less the 5% of the apparel market, the DSP would not dramatically change the industry, but could help push things in the right direction, in a sector which so-far shows strong sales.

                A discussion of ongoing WRC cases followed.  Violations of labor rights at the Mexmode facility was reported on in July, 2008.  The WRC continues to work on this, with no new findings.  Another company, Hytex, in Malaysia produces products for Nike, which does supply IU.  Since the Aug. 2008 alert, word is that some progress has been made.  A producer for Hanes, TOS Dominica had a breakthrough with its workforce, resulting in a new contract.  Finally, the situation with Jerzees de Honduras took a turn for the worse, as the company announced its plans to close a factory where workers had recently been reinstated after a WRC investigation.  Although Duke University had apparently sent a warning to the company, and University of Miami did terminate a contract, the WRC is encouraging other university to wait on any action, with the hopes that the company will continue to respond to negotiations.

Coca-Cola Contract

                Thomas Ellis spoke about the exclusive contract with Coke, which is up for renewal in June.  President Mc Robbie reaffirmed the role of the committee in dealing with this, although it falls outside of the original purview of the group.  Thomas did note that the contract was subject to the University’s code of conduct rules, as well as those specific to the contract.  He has assembled a team to deal with the renewal process, including relevant personnel from Athletics, RPS, and the Memorial Union.

                No Sweat! spearheaded a letter writing campaign to the President, asking the University to end its relationship with Coca-Cola.  A sample letter was passed out.  The newest development was the release of the ILO report on Coke’s operations in Columbia.  While the report largely exonerates the company of any direct wrongdoing, the No Sweat! representative, Cole Wehrle, noted a conflict of interest.  Specifically, the US delegate to the ILO is also the Global Relations Director (Edward Potter) for Coca-Cola.  Finally, it was pointed out, that one of the six members of the delegation, the Employers Activity Specialist, did not agree with the conclusions of the report.

Next Meeting

The next meeting was tentatively scheduled for early in the next semester, January 2009.