Study Says Campus Suppliers Abuse Foreign Workforce

Author: By Tanya Schevitz

The University of California and four other universities issued a report yesterday detailing abusive and dangerous working conditions in U.S. and overseas factories that manufacture clothing and other products with campus logos.p. The report, culled from a yearlong study, also found that many universities have adopted inadequate codes of conduct that are difficult to enforce.p. “The report was disturbing,” said UC spokeswoman Mary Spletter. “At all countries, there is room for improvement.”p. The investigation, conducted by a team of independent consultants, was commissioned by UC, Harvard University, theUniversity of Notre Dame, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan to help the schools better understand the conditions under which licensed apparel is manufactured.p. The 147-page “Independent University Initiative” reports widespread problems, including dangerous health and safety conditions, excessive overtime, dismal pay and threats against unionizers. It also reports discrimination against women, including lower wages and limitations on pregnancy.p. “This kind of information is needed before we can take the next step,” Spletter said. “The report is not the end of our investigation of fair work practices.”p. But anti-sweatshop activists have been skeptical of the report ever since it was first proposed.p. “It is completely inadequate,” said Nikki Bas, director of the Oakland-based Sweatshop Watch.p. Factory visits were conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a company, Bas said, with ties to the industry producing the goods.p. “If there had been a union involved, if there had been a respected human rights organization involved, it would have been different,” Bas said.p. Spletter defended the study, saying that PriceWaterhouseCoopers, was joined by the Business for Social Responsibility Education Fund in San Francisco and the Investor Responsibility Research Center in Washington, D.C. MIT Assistant Professor Dara O’Rourke was also along as an independent observer in some factories.p. But in a recent report O’Rourke also criticized the practices of PriceWaterHouseCoopers, saying the monitors interviewed employees in front of or near managers, missed serious health violations, ignored forced overtime and falsified time cards, and often failed to ask workers about discipline and collective bargaining.p. Fifteen licensees were asked to participate. While companies such as Nike, Champion, JanSport and Adidas-Solomon did get involved, six others did not, including Russell Athletic, Pro Player and Fruit of the Loom.p. When citing violations, the consultants did not specify ownership of individual factories nor name individuals, to protect privacy. The project included visits to 13 factories, interviews with a sample of factory managers and employees and a review of factory records. Information was also gathered on the industry structure and working conditions of seven countries — China, El Salvador, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand and the United States.p. Many of the same violations showed up at different factories, including excessive overtime hours, locked doors and fire exits, inadequate emergency plans or equipment, overcrowded and dirty facilities and lack of protective clothing or machine guards. Often workers unprotected by gloves or masks used chemicals implicated in a variety of health problems and illnesses, including cancer. They were also verbally abused and discouraged from joining unions, according to the report.p. Among the worst cases cited were employees making sweatshirts and jerseys in Shanghai, China who worked up to 21 days consecutively, had an average of 101 hours of overtime a month and often were not adequately compensated. In Thailand, two pregnant women worked 39 and 50.5 overtime hours respectively during the two-week inspection period, and a driver worked 55.5 overtime hours in a single week. Even factories audited in the United States had several violations. In a Pennsylvania factory, there were no fire alarms, smoke detectors or back-up lighting. Emergency exits were not marked, and there was no escape plan. The factory also did not have proper containers for the disposal of sharp metal objects such as broken needles or razor blades.p. Cutters and sewers were not wearing adequate protection, and a worker was seen using carcinogenic spot-removing chemicals without wearing gloves or mask.p. “The industry continues to deny the problem is as widespread as activists say. It is good for the university to confirm for themselves that it is not just the bad apple but that sweatshops are a systematic problem,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Jill Esbenshade, who is a member of the UC Coalition Against Sweatshops and a committee advising UC on the issue.p. But she wants the universities to look more at establishing consistent contracts with factories, which is presently difficult because work shifts continuously from contractor to contractor within and between countries.p. October 7, 2000

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