Seventeen colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke and Notre Dame, announced on Monday that they would be the first to join a new factory-monitoring association that the White House supports in an effort to ensure that apparel carrying their names is not made in sweatshops.
The move is expected to help attract more companies and colleges to the group, the Fair Labor Association, which has established a code of conduct for apparel factories and a program to monitor them for violations, association members said.
“This is a great boost for the Fair Labor Association,” said Michael Posner, a member of the association and executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights. “They’re intellectual centers. Their participation in this process will strengthen the association and broaden the discussion.”
The association is made up of several human rights groups and seven prominent manufacturers, including Reebok International Ltd., Nike Inc. and Liz Claiborne Inc. It grew out of the White House Apparel Industry Partnership, a three-year-old effort against sweatshops. The association hopes to begin its monitoring program soon and to attract more corporate members.
Officials at several colleges acknowledged that their decision to join the association was partly a response to students who demanded that companies licensed to produce apparel with their institution’s name not use sweatshops.
The association has encountered problems attracting corporate members, partly because many apparel companies do not want to risk the embarrassment of having monitors uncover factory violations and do not want to absorb the cost of paying for monitors and complying with its code of conduct.
“The question for many companies is, when is it time to get involved?” said Roberta Karp, co-chairwoman of the association and general counsel at Liz Claiborne. “I’d say the time is now. The universities are joining. Their licensees will have to follow suit. Many of the licensees are major apparel companies, and other companies will see this has momentum.”
The group’s code of conduct spells out numerous requirements, including a minimum age for apparel workers and allowing the right to organize.
Several students interviewed said the colleges’ decision to join the association was a step in the right direction, but that the association’s code of conduct did not go far enough. They faulted the code for not requiring that all factories pay a living wage and because outside monitors will inspect only 10 percent of a company’s factories each year.
The other colleges and universities joining the association are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Florida State, Marymount, Rutgers, Smith, Tufts, Wellesley, the University of Arizona and the University of Pennsylvania.