99-037 (Sweatshop Decisions)
Distributed October 18, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

The struggle against sweatshops

Brown to remain in Fair Labor Association, join Worker Rights Consortium

President E. Gordon Gee announced today that Brown University will maintain its membership in the Fair Labor Association and will become a founding member of a new student-led alternative group, the Worker Rights Consortium. Both FLA and WRC work to end sweatshop exploitation of apparel industry workers and to assure consumers that the items they buy have been manufactured under conditions that respect worker rights.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown President E. Gordon Gee announced today that Brown University will maintain its membership in the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a nationwide organization of apparel manufacturers, retailers and non-governmental agencies dedicated to improving the working conditions of apparel workers in the Third World. Gee also announced that Brown will become a founding member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a student-led effort with similar goals, as long as the WRC and the FLA can work together in a complementary fashion.

In April of this year, Brown set out six principles that would govern its participation in the FLA and said it would withdraw if the FLA had not complied with the principles by October 15. Gee established a Code of Conduct Advisory Committee to study issues involved in combating sweatshop conditions and advise him on the University’s participation in various national efforts. The committee presented its report to Gee on Friday, Oct. 15, 1999.

“It should be very clear to everyone that I do not find the progress made to date by the FLA to be satisfactory,” Gee wrote to the committee members. “The fact that they have not fully complied with the principles we announced on April 21, 1999 troubles me. However, I was moved by the arguments [FLA board member] Pharis Harvey made during the course of his visit to Brown last week. As you state in your report, Mr. Harvey firmly believes 'that the FLA is a credible (albeit still imperfect) system.’ I value Mr. Harvey’s opinion and would agree with his view on this matter. Thus, for the time being, Brown will remain a fully committed member of the FLA.”

The WRC, to be announced Tuesday, Oct. 19, is an alternative led by students and other interested parties who believe the inclusion of manufacturers within the FLA works against effective monitoring of production facilities in the Third World. The advisory committee reviewed the WRC proposal and found nothing in the charters of the two organizations that would prohibit Brown from holding membership in both. The most essential elements, Gee said, are whether the two groups can work cooperatively and whether they can maintain a clear focus on protecting the rights of workers who make apparel that bears the Brown name and symbols.

“I concur with some of our students who argue that monitoring would benefit from a degree of competition, and I believe that more rather than less efforts to improve this pervasive international problem are better,” Gee wrote. “Accordingly, I am willing to have Brown join the Worker Rights Consortium as a founding member. However, the University will remain a member only if it becomes clear, through the further development of the consortium and the FLA, that the two organizations can operate in a complementary fashion.”

Should the University be forced to choose between groups, Gee said, “We will choose the organization that makes the greater effort to work collaboratively with the other and that better preserves Brown’s ability to make choices that protect the workers’ rights in accordance with our Code of Conduct.”