University-Backed Report Criticizes Conditions in Factories That Make Licensed Apparel

by By Scott Street

Five American universities released a joint report on Friday that draws attention to the often sub-par working conditions in “sweatshops” throughout the world that manufacture university-licensed apparel.p. The report, sponsored by Harvard and Ohio State Universities and the Universities of California, Michigan, andNotre Dame, concluded a yearlong study of working conditions in seven countries, including the United States, that make up a substantial portion of the university-licensed apparel industry. While the report found some good practices at the factories, it found pervasive abuse in all of the countries, including limitations on workers’ rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association, and discrimination against women.p. “There were widespread violations of local laws and university codes of conduct in every country evaluated, including the U.S., China, Korea, El Salvador, Pakistan, Thailand, and Mexico,” said Dara O’Rourke, an assistant professor in the department of urban studies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-author of the report. The report found that “the diffuse nature of apparel production hinders enforcement of labor standards,” although it noted that it was difficult to gather information from factory workers about their working conditions. Calls to Allan A. Ryan, Jr., a Harvard lawyer, were not returned Friday, but he described the inspiration behind the study to the student newspaper, The Crimson, in its Friday issue.p. “This was not an attempt to gather evidence exhaustively, but rather to take a first look at conditions and to determine how information can be gathered in a reliable, efficient way,” he told the paper.p. The report was commissioned by the universities in the summer of 1999 after protests erupted over working conditions in the factories producing apparel for such world-famous institutions as Harvard, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Michigan.p. The universities selected PricewaterhouseCoopers as the primary monitor for the study, and the consulting giant was accompanied on several factory visits by representatives of the Business for Social Responsibility Education Fund of San Francisco, the Investor Responsibility Research Center of Washington, D.C., and Mr. O’Rourke. In all, Pricewaterhouse was accompanied on half of its visits to the various factories.p. While the release of the report Friday was generally applauded, a squabble has broken out between Mr. O’Rourke and Pricewaterhouse, involving a separate report Mr. O’Rourke published two weeks ago criticizing the company’s monitoring procedures. Mr. O’Rourke charged that Pricewaterhouse relied too heavily on management opinion at the factories and less on worker opinion, and also failed to note barriers to freedom of association and collective bargaining.p. “These omissions are due to problems in PwC’s monitoring methods,” Mr. O’Rourke wrote in the report, titled “Monitoring the Monitors: A Critique of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Labor Monitoring.”p. “Universities and firms interested in auditing labor conditions in the factories producing their goods should consider other monitoring methods and should demand improvements in current monitoring schemes,” he added.p. PricewaterhouseCoopers denies the charges and says that its monitoring is continuing to evolve and improve.“He has taken experience on two monitoring visits and projected that,” said Randy Rankin, the head of Pricewaterhouse’s contractor compliance program. He noted that Mr. O’Rourke accompanied the monitors on only two visits, to China and Korea, out of 14 the company did for the universities.p. “It does not seem sufficient to draw the types of conclusions he draws,” Mr. Rankin continued, although he said that he agreed with many of Mr. O’Rourke’s assessments.p. Each university must decide for itself how to implement anti-sweatshop policies, according to a statement issued by the University of California. But by joining with the other universities in this study, California officials said they now know more than ever about the workplace environment at factories producing the university’s licensed apparel.p. “We will continue to review and assess our policies as we work with our student-faculty monitoring group, other interested universities, and the Workers’ Rights Consortium,” Joseph P. Mullinix, a senior vice president of the university, said in a written statement Friday.p. Monday, October 9, 2000

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