Universities’ boycott wins garment workers right to unionize

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O’Halloran, who has mentored students advocating for labor rights since the late 1990s, when the anti-sweatshop movement took root on college campuses, says that Columbia students have been especially passionate on this issue and that the University’s administration is unusually responsive to their concerns. In 2000, Columbia was among the first in a succession of universities to adopt a “code of workplace conduct,” stipulating that its licensees and vendors must recognize unions, pay workers a living wage, grant maternity leaves, refrain from employing children, and observe other basic labor rights. That same year, Columbia was among 44 founding affiliates of the WRC.

Columbia has typically enforced its code of conduct in quiet ways, according to Honey Sue Fishman, executive director of business services. She says that when her office gets complaints about licensees’ or vendors’ labor practices — often from student activists — she works with the companies directly, or through intermediaries such as the WRC and the nonprofit Fair Labor Association, to try to bring them in line with the University’s code of conduct. “Usually, the company will hear our concerns and take reasonable steps to address the problem,” she says, “but with Russell, we had to resort to ending our business relationship.”

Fishman says that if Russell is found to abide by the University’s code of conduct over the next year or so, her office will consider granting the company a license to again produce Lion-emblazoned sportswear. “We’ll be monitoring Russell’s progress very carefully,” she says, “to make sure it treats these workers the way it’s promised to.”

DJC

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