In August, 1996,
the Clinton administration established The White House
Apparel Industry Partnership(AIP), a task force supposedly
created as a reflection of the one-year anniversary of
the El Monte sweatshop raid in California. However, the
creation of the AIP had more to do with several high-profile
human rights campaigns in 1995 and 1996 against the practices
of The GAP in El Salvador and the making of Kathie Lee
Gifford apparel in Hondoras and Nike products in Indonesia.
By mid-1996, the apparel industry had lost much credibility
in the eyes of the public and fear over their ability
to control legislation and advance the free trade agenda
prompted industry and the Clinton administration to form
a corporate dominated body - the AIP.
In November, 1998, the task force, without the support
of the AFL/CIO and the Interfaith Center for Corporate
Responsibility, created a system of monitoring and minimum
standards to assure consumers that the apparel they buy
is not made in sweatshops - the Fair Labor Association
(FLA). Despite inadequate standards and monitoring, companies
will be able to use their participation in the FLA as
a marketing tool. Once certified, these companies will
be able to sew a label into their products and state that
they were made under fair conditions--a label we feel
will fool consumers and will amount to false advertising.
Why did the FLA solicit the participation of universities?
Legitimacy and Funding. Over this past year, as more than
a hundred schools were signing on to the FLA, students
across the country began mobilizing support for an alternative
system. At several campuses, students organized sit-ins,
held public debates and demonstrations, brought sweatshop
workers from Latin America to speak on their campuses,
and waged campaigns to encourage their administrations
to adopt stronger codes of conduct and licensing agreements.
As a direct result of student activism, corporations like
Nike and Champion have begun disclosing the locations
of their factories.
The Workers' Rights Consortium (WRC) was developed by
the United Students Against Sweatshops in consultation
with workers and human rights groups and has begun the
process of obtaining 503(c) status as a non-profit organization.
(See below for advisory council members and endorsing
groups.) The WRC is an effort to collaborate with workers,
non-governmental organizations, and other colleges and
universities to improve the conditions of workers producing
collegiate apparel, using the leverage of licensing agreements.
The code of conduct developed by the WRC is not required
to join, but it is recommended. A school's code must contain
language that includes provisions for a living wage, the
right to organize, the protection of women's rights, public
disclosure, and independent monitoring. To date, 35 campuses
have signed on to the WRC and more than a dozen have pledged
to consider joining this Spring.
We believe that core global standards are vital in order
to prevent the 'race to the bottom' that we have seen
as countries compete for investment by allowing abusive
conditions to flourish. We believe that the value of what
we do is not just to improve conditions for the people
that make clothing for the small college market, but also
to set an example for the apparel industry and for the
world leaders that basic labor rights can and must be
FLA Problems and WRC Solutions
A careful reading of the standards and means of enforcement
indicate that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) is seriously
flawed in several key areas:
(1) Wages: Its standards are too weak to guarantee real
improvement in workers' lives. The FLA allows workers
to be paid below poverty wages by supporting minimum wages
deliberately set below subsistence to attract foreign
investment. The FLA doesn't acknowledge the responsibility
of companies to pay a living wage to factory workers.
The FLA only calls for companies to pay the local minimum
wage or the prevailing industry wage, both of which are
usually inadequate. Recognizing its failure to adequately
address wages, the FLA has committed the Department of
Labor to undertake a study of wages and basic needs data.
However, the Department of Labor will only use publicly
available data instead of doing original studies in countries
that are major producers for US companies. The problems
with compiling only existing data are that there will
not be a full data set that covers all producing countries
and the data will come from different sources collected
using different methods and will therefore be inconsistent.
The Department of Labor should do original studies with
uniform methods that would gather data in an unbiased
way. However, even if the Department of Labor's limited
study were to produce useful information, the FLA has
made no agreement to use the data to devise new wage standards.
In fact, the FLA's position reflects the companies' arguments
that a living wage is impossible to define and should
therefore be off the agenda.
The WRC challenges this notion that a living wage is
impossible to define and supports a living wage and defines
it as that which is the 'take home' or 'net' wage, earned
during a work week of no more than 48 hours, that provides
for the basic needs (housing, energy, nutrition, clothing,
health care, education, potable water, child care, transportation,
and an additional 10% for savings/emergencies) of an average
family unit divided by the average number of adult wage
earners. Preliminary results of studies conduct by non-governmental
organizations such as Global Exchange and the National
Labor Committee show the living wage to be about double
the minimum or prevailing industry wages. While this might
sound like a lot, the wages are presently so low that
in most countries, doubling them would still result in
labor costs significantly less than 10 percent of the
WRC members pledge to sponsor institutionally funded
research to determine living wage requirements. Joining
WRC does not require the immediate enforcement of a living
wage, but rather a commitment to fully participate in
studies such as the Living Wage Coalition formed out of
the recent Living Wage Symposium held at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison this past year. The studies will
take place in the most-used apparel production regions,
as determined by forthcoming disclosure lists from the
schools involved and the regional living wage will be
calculated by local market-basket research and in conjunction
with workers. At present, Todd Whitmore, an administrator
from Notre Dame is heading up the formation of a governing
board for this coalition. Once a living wage has been
more thoroughly studied and there is general agreement
about the best way to calculate a living wage, WRC will
require its members to implement a living wage in its
code of conduct.
(2) Overtime: The FLA allows excessive hours of overtime
by accepting a 60 hour work week (48 hours with 12 hours
overtime) as the norm. Compensation for overtime in the
FLA's Code is inadequate. It calls for employers to compensate
workers at the legal rate, or where none exists, at a
rate at least equal to their regular hourly compensation.
Labor unions all over the world call for overtime to be
paid at a higher rate than the regular hourly wage in
order to force employers to respect legally determined
limits on hours. The WRC calls for at least time-and-a-half
pay for overtime.
(3) Right to Organize: The FLA does not adequately uphold
the right of workers to organize unions. Many U.S. companies
choose to work in countries or free-trade zones where
independent organizing is illegal and where workers who
stand up for their rights are fired or in some instances
killed. Although the code states that "the goals
of the association is to promote and encourage positive
change...," there are no specific standards for countries
where these rights are denied. There is no prohibition
against using the local military to keep "order"
in the factory and put down strikes, only a recommendation
that companies should only contract with factory owners
who will not "affirmatively seek the assistance of
state authorities to prevent workers from exercising these
The WRC asserts that even in countries where the laws
and juridical practices fail to guarantee these rights,
companies must try to achieve worker representation in
their particular factories and must work with the broader
labor and human rights community to help create more space
for workers' rights. To verify this, the WRC requires
independent monitoring in ALL factories--not just a small
sample--in countries where the laws prohibit workers from
organizing independent unions.
(4) Independent Monitoring: The FLA's monitoring system
is not transparent nor sufficiently independent of the
companies to be credible. It requires only 10 percent
of a company's factories to be monitored yearly and the
companies can choose their own monitors resulting in undue
influence in which factories will be monitored. Given
that the companies will know the list of the factories
to be monitored, it is logical to assume that they will
notify the factory owners. According to OSHA (the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration) standards, the FLA procedures
for selecting plants and monitors would be completely
unacceptable for any company inside the U.S. and should
therefore be unacceptable for US-based companies operating
overseas. FLA monitoring contradicts the fundamental basis
of monitoring by OSHA, which is unannounced visits conducted
by experts who are not working directly for the companies.
The WRC calls for annual independent monitoring in at
least 30 percent of factories, as well as independent
monitoring in ALL factories in countries where basic workers'
rights are denied. The list of factories to be monitored
are determined by the local human rights, labor or religious
groups, who have the trust of the workers and knowledge
of local conditions, not by the companies. True independent
monitoring is only possible with full pubic disclosure.
(5) Public Disclosure: The FLA does not require full
public disclosure and those factories that are disclosed
are not released to the public. If workers and their advocates
knew this information, in cases where local managers are
being abusive, they could register complaints directly
with the buyers. Moreover, given that independent monitoring
will only take place in a minority of a company's factories
per year, disclosure of all factory sites could open up
the system to receive more input on the status of the
non-monitored factories. Companies argue that information
about what factories they use is proprietary, that having
high quality factories and keeping this information from
their competitors is important for maintaining their competitive
advantage. This argument is bogus as often times competing
shoe and apparel companies produce their goods in the
same factories as their competitors; and most of the information
of who is producing what and where is already well known
within the industry itself.
The WRC requires licensees to make public the names and
locations of all factories making the university's products.
The failure to report or reporting of false information
will be grounds for sanctions up to termination of the
(6) Women's Rights: The FLA does not provide specific
language in regards to women's rights, such as prohibiting
pregnancy tests, mandatory contraception, and denial of
maternity benefits. In El Salvador alone, the eighth largest
apparel exporter to the U.S., 80 percent of the 70,000
workers are young women. The WRC supports women's rights
and states that women will receive equal remuneration,
including benefits and treatment.
Why not remain on the FLA and join the WRC?
The FLA's code and governing body is seriously flawed.
As long as FLA standards fail to seriously address wages
and the right to organize, no company or university should
be permitted to promote their apparel as having been made
under fair conditions. By remaining on the FLA, the universities
are lending legitimacy to an institution which gives cover
to sweatshop abuse. Universities remaining on the FLA
will lose autonomy over their licensing contracts and
end up obligated to corporate interests. Participating
universities have only one out of more than a dozen votes
on the FLA Board and will have no chance in improving
By joining the WRC, universities can take an opportunity
to join students, workers and religious leaders to support
a real anti-sweatshop effort and develop a system that
will reflect their interests rather than just the corporate
interests embodied in the FLA.
College and the Movement
Apparel Research Initiative (CARI) in Indonesia
Comparative Look: FLA vs. WRC