Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility
Recommendation on Monitoring Organization
November 20, 2000
Our recommendation is that the University of Pennsylvania join both the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The five members who voted for this option feel quite strongly that joining the WRC is contingent upon also joining the FLA.
The members of the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility who voted for joining both the WRC and the FLA did so for the reasons outlined in this opinion. Let us begin with the observation that both of these organizations are young and untested. Neither of them has begun to monitor the apparel industry. Moreover, the monitoring of an international undertaking as large and complex as the apparel industry is an entirely new venture that represents a vast experiment. No one can be sure how to succeed. This being the case, we feel that there is wisdom in Penn joining both organizations, taking advantage of the successes of both the WRC and the FLA, and learning from their failures.
We believe that both the WRC and the FLA have sound values and strong ties to the international human rights organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Both of their Boards have solid representation from organizations of this sort. It is also clear that the founders and staff of both organizations are committed to improving working conditions for international labor.
Both the WRC and the FLA have strong Codes of Conduct, in harmony with Penn's values and our own Code.
One of the observations made in the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sweatshops was that University representation within the FLA should be improved before Penn affiliates with either organization. Since this report was written, the FLA has organized a University Advisory Council Executive Committee with 15 University and College representatives. They hired a full-time staff person to manage this "mini-board." The full FLA Board is also currently entertaining a proposition to increase by one the number of University seats and a vote is expected in December.
The majority finds that these changes to College and University representation within the FLA are sufficient to allow Penn to join the organization. We also believe that these changes demonstrate good will and a willingness on the part of the FLA to work in a positive way with Colleges and Universities. Approximately 15 other Colleges and Universities belong to both organizations. No evidence has been brought forth to demonstrate that this represents a conflict of interest or a compromise of values.
While both the FLA and the WRC are young, the FLA has its own Washington DC office. The first major appointment at the FLA was Charles Ruff who died on November 19th. We do not believe that this tragic event has a substantial bearing on the FLA, although Mr. Ruff was a major figure in the association. Mr. Ruff picked Sam Brown as the FLA Executive Director. Mr. Brown is a man of considerable experience in labor and government. They have a seasoned senior staff in place consisting of Ms. Maureen Murtha, University Liaison, Mr. Shawn MacDonald, Director of Accreditation, and Mr. Jason Wares, Executive Officer. At the present time the WRC has only one full time staff member, an acting executive director, although they recently announced the appointment of Mark Barenberg as their permanent choice for this office. They share a telephone and office space with another small organization in Brooklyn, NY. While there will continue to be organizational changes in both organizations, the majority believes that the FLA is significantly better formed at this moment, and is on a sound administrative, and organizational footing. The WRC is not yet far enough along in this process to be judged.
There are other important differences between the WRC and the FLA. Two of the most striking of these contrasts are scale and mission. The WRC is charged primarily with monitoring apparel companies that make goods bearing the identification of Colleges and Universities. The FLA is charged with monitoring the apparel industry world wide, whether it is made for College and University use, or the general public. This difference is seen in the structure of the organizations. The WRC has five seats on its Board dedicated to College and University representation. They also have five student representatives there. This Board structure is a reflection of the fact that the WRC is so closely defined by College and University apparel. It is a relatively small organization, with a rather specific mandate. The FLA, on the other hand, is comparatively large, with a mandate that goes well beyond monitoring apparel made for Colleges and Universities. College and University apparel makes up less than one percent of the apparel sales in the United States. This scale and mandate are reflected in the composition of the FLA Board, which has only one University seat, although, as noted, this may be raised to two. The bulk of the FLA Board is made up of NGOs and representatives of the apparel industry.
These differences in scale and mission are interesting and important. By joining the WRC, Penn gains access to a relatively small, focused monitoring organization, where, by and large, College and University needs set the agenda. By gaining this intimacy, however, we are left out of the monitoring of the rest of the apparel industry. If improving the working conditions for international labor, not just that involved with Penn apparel, is the concern we are addressing by joining a monitoring organization, the majority sees this difference in scale as a serious down side. By joining the FLA, Penn enters a much larger arena, and loses much of the control and intimacy that we would enjoy in the WRC at the Board and policy level. But, the trade off here is that we become engaged in monitoring the apparel industry internationally, addressing sweatshop issues wherever they are found, not just those concerned with our licensees. The majority holds that these issues of scale and mission, while different, are more complementary than opposed, offering us another reason to advocate joining both the WRC and the FLA.
The international apparel industry is very large, complex and interconnected. It would be unfair to say that the WRC will have a view into only one percent of it, just because that is the estimate of the amount of College and University apparel that is made. Many, perhaps most, apparel manufacturers make apparel for more than one market, and this will increase the percentage of companies assessed by the WRC, perhaps by several percentage points. But, the majority believes that even this being the case, there are very significant differences between the scale of the monitoring programs of the WRC and the FLA and it does not affect our recommendation to join both organizations.
The FLA has made several significant changes since the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sweatshops. They no longer plan to monitor sweatshops using branches of US based accounting firms. They have changed instead to local NGOs, who will be involved in all monitoring, sometimes paired with private organizations, such a professional industrial monitors. The FLA also has an NGO Advisory Council, with 23 labor and human rights organizations including the National Council of Churches, Consumer Federation of America, International Labor Rights Fund and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. They continue to reach out to NGOs around the world informing them of their presence and mission.
So too has the WRC grown and changed since the final report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sweatshops. They have formed a Governing Board and an Advisory Board, and appointed an executive director. Policies are coming into place and plans being made to test their "complaint response" form of monitoring. The WRC also continues to reach out to NGOs around the world informing them of their presence and mission.
The WRC and the FLA have decided to approach the monitoring of the international apparel industry somewhat differently. The WRC will monitor the apparel industry in three ways: 1) response to worker complaints 2) industry disclosure and self-policing and 3) the selective use of field teams to respond to chronic, repeated reports of labor abuse and tolerance of sweatshop conditions. The FLA will also use industry disclosure and self-policing and will respond to worker complaints. The FLA, however, will have an extensive, pro-active monitoring program, fielding a large number of national and international inspection teams who will enter workshops, interview workers and seek out full knowledge of working conditions, on the spot. It is the majority opinion that the FLA has the stronger program in this regard, but that the WRC will add breadth to monitoring efforts and is therefore worthy of support.
The majority finds that there is no credible evidence that the involvement of the apparel industry in the FLA represents a conflict of interest. We would not have voted as we did if such evidence was available. If such a conflict of interest exists, one would wonder why there are so many prominent, internationally respected human rights organizations and NGOs working with the FLA. The majority believes that working with (not for) the apparel industry is the best way to serve the cause of international labor. Therefore, treating the apparel industry as an adversary is counterproductive. We believe that Penn should join both the WRC and the FLA and work from within to make these important organizations as good as they possibly can be.
In the end, we find that the WRC and the FLA are in most ways complementary, not opposed, organizations. The histories of the WRC and the FLA are clearly intertwined. We see indications that the existence of both organizations acts as a catalyst, in that some of the positive change is apparently a result of the existence of the other organization. This would be particularly true for the recent changes in the FLA. This suggests that support for both organizations is appropriate.
The monitoring project for the apparel industry is an experiment on an
international scale, with few if any certainties. Joining both organizations
at this time, working from within to improve them, is in our opinion therefore
the best direction to take, especially if one keeps worker welfare at the
forefront of the criteria.
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 16, December 19, 2000