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Ensuring Fair Working Conditions Discussed
March 13, 2000

Students, faculty, and others debated Tuesday night how best to ensure that items bearing the UConn logo are produced in fair and safe working conditions.

The forum was a hearing held in the Student Union Ballroom by the Task Force on College Licensing Issues, a group appointed by President Philip E. Austin last October.

According to task force chair Jeremy Paul, professor of law and associate dean of academic affairs, there are two monitoring organizations. One is the Fair Labor Association (FLA), and the other is the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), which was formed by United Students Against Sweatshops in consultation with workers and human rights groups. Discussions about which group to join have been going on in colleges and universities across the country, Paul said.

The WRC has an advisory council and is in the process of establishing a governing board. To date the most significant step in the progress of the WRC has been the decisions of Indiana University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin to provide tentative support.

Most of those at the hearing said they favored UConn joining the WRC, because in their view the FLA has too much industry representation and too many loopholes. "The main reason the FLA will not work is that it does not provide effective monitoring," said student Eftyhnia Theodoropoulos, vice president of the local chapter of Amnesty International and a member of the Student Labor Action Committee. "We want the WRC - that's what we're saying loud and clear."

Others agreed. "The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility withdrew from the FLA," said Dave Nelson, a retired minister from Mansfield.

According to Paul, as originally constituted, the FLA's government board includes six industry representatives, six labor/non-government representatives and one university representative. The FLA will hire private for-profit companies as monitors, and funding for those monitors will in part be provided by the very companies they are monitoring.

Fletcher Fischer, president of the Northeastern Connecticut Labor Council, said the University should join the WRC. He said if the University were to apply the FLA's standards, it would be like hiring faculty without examining their credentials: "When you are looking at professors, don't bother with their resumes, just take their word that they're the best in their field."

About 40 people attended the two-hour hearing, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. The task force members are, in addition to Paul: William Alpert, Judith Meagher, Paul Shapiro, Timothy Tolokan, and students Catherine Harnois and Donald Branson.

The task force will meet again this month for further discussion. "There appears to be consensus in terms of our objectives, but there is ongoing discussion on how best to achieve those objectives," Paul said. He indicated that options could include affiliating with one or both organizations or to support efforts to improve working conditions without formally joining an organization. Another option might be for the University to issue its own code of conduct for its licensees.

Sherry Fisher