Increase the amount of sweatshop-free apparel in the bookstore
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The University of Vermont should adhere to its mission statement and be certain of its ethical integrity by sourcing its apparel from a certified sweatshop-free garment company. Currently, the UVM Bookstore carries some apparel that may be sourced from sweatshops globally.
The university already carries a small amount of Alta Gracia Apparel, which could easily be increased given there is already a contract in place with Alta Gracia. Alta Gacia ensures their workers are paid a livable wage and their working conditions are fair and safe, and certify these conditions meet or exceed standards through the Worker's Rights Consortium, an independent third-party certifier. We want our university to be associated with sweatshop-free apparel that we can be proud to wear and that supports our university's values.
Addendum added 11/25/13:
After launching this petition, we were contacted by UVM and given more information about the University’s policies about licensing and labor standards for apparel. UVM uses Licensing Resource Group as its licensing management service. While LRG partners with both the Worker’s Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association, third-party certifiers for factories and corporations, UVM currently is a member of the Fair Labor Association. While the standards of the FLA are respectable, we found that they are not enforced or adhered to. Furthermore, we found several facets of their business structure to be problematic as a true third party certifier.
Although the FLA’s code of conduct and charter delineate fair labor standards and policies including clear limits on weekly hours for workers, set a minimum age for workers, and freedom to unionize, these policies are not always put into practice in the many factories and workplaces that the Fair Labor Association certifies as fair.
The FLA Board of Directors is made up of Non-Governmental Organizations, University Officials, and Industry Representatives, which currently include reps from Adidas, Nike, and Gildan—all infamously anti-worker rights corporations. Funding for the FLA also comes from the corporations it audits. This is not truly third-party independent certification, as the Board has special interests in the corporations they certify.
The FLA has a long history of problematic actions and inactions. In 2007, Nike (a FLA certified company) pulled out of a factory called BJ&B in the Dominican Republic and left the workers with no severance pay, and made them sign illegal agreements that they would not negotiate severance pay. FLA published an official report concluding that BJ&B had fulfilled all of its legal obligations and that the workers’ rights had been respected throughout the process.
In 2009, when Nike pulled out of two Honduras factories and refused to pay 1,800 workers severance, United Students Against Sweatshops launched their “Just Pay It” campaign, obligating Nike to pay the severance. The FLA stood by and did nothing. After the campaign was successful, the FLA released an official statement asserting themselves as playing a “leadership role in trying to address the systemic issue of severance” and they also congratulated Nike, stating that the settlement “goes beyond what Nike was legally or contractually required to provide.”
In 2012, Apple became a dues-paying member of the FLA. In 2010, eighteen Foxconn workers attempted suicide by falling off of the factory buildings; fourteen of them died. The FLA reviewed Apple’s Foxconn factories and certified them; president Auret van Heerden (who stepped down in July 2013) stated that the suicides may have been a result of the “boredom” of monotonous tasks. The fact that Fair Labor Association has affiliated with Apple and its Foxconn companies is very telling that the FLA does not really support fair labor standards and is very vested in its corporate interests.
These examples are just a few of many that show the problems with FLA’s implementation and adherence to its own policies. UVM and its licensing group use the FLA’s standards when choosing which clothing suppliers to use for its official apparel.
United Students Against Sweatshops, a student-based group that pursues fair labor standards for universities nationally, has spoken out many times against the Fair Labor Association’s choice to certify corporations that are unfair to workers.
Ideally there would be various alternate companies and certifiers for the University to choose from, but in this case finding an adequate substitute proved difficult. The Peace & Justice Center strives to raise awareness about the injustices in the apparel industry so that we as consumers can make more informed choices about the products we buy and standards we support. The Fair Labor Association has shown themselves to be ineffectual, anti-union, anti-workers' rights, and pro-corporate in practice. The fact that UVM uses such a problematic certifier as the FLA for much of its bookstore apparel is something that needs to change.
Through our research, the only socially responsible certifier we found was the Workers’ Rights Consortium, and the only fair apparel company we found that could handle an account the size of UVM was Alta Gracia.The truth is, there is no way of knowing whether or not some of the clothes UVM sells are produced in sweatshops, because of the certifier that UVM uses. The FLA has shown themselves to be very problematic and unaccountable in the past, so there is no way for the average consumer to be able to tell if an FLA "certified" garment has been produced fairly. However, if UVM used the Workers' Rights Consortium, as many other universities do, we could be absolutely certain that sweatshop labor was not involved in the production of UVM apparel, because of the WRC's history of accountability and stringent adherence to its guidelines.
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