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Coalition fights for fair labor

A group delivered letter to president on behalf of fair labor rights.

Barnes & Noble and Temple are both affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, but one group on Main Campus is looking for the university to go further in its efforts to have Temple’s memorabilia made in labor-friendly factories.

The Coalition of Students Against Sweatshops delivered a letter on Sept. 19 to Acting President Richard Englert’s office and to Temple bookstore manager Jim Hanley, requesting an opportunity from Englert and Hanely to meet with the student group to discuss ways to make sure any gear with the Temple logo is coming from factories with labor-friendly practices.

“As students of Temple University, we want to know what ‘Temple Made’ really means. How is Temple made?” the group’s Facebook page reads.

Amy Kessel, a member of Temple’s branch of Net Impact, a student business group, said that the main goal of the group is to get the university to sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium. The consortium is an independent labor rights monitoring organization with more than 175 college and university affiliates, including the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joesph’s University and Rutgers University, according to its website.

If Temple were to sign on with the consortium, it would have to adopt a manufacturing code of conduct, provide the consortium with a list of the names of factories involved with the production of Temple’s logo and pay an annual affiliation fee of either $1,500 or 1 percent of gross licensing revenues, whatever is greater.

Kessel, a senior business management major, said she expects the acting president to be in favor of the group’s proposal.

“We’re expecting that [Englert] will really go for this because it’s a win-win situation,” Kessel said. “It’s great for Temple, it’s great for the students, it’s great for the workers and everybody wins. We’re looking forward to meeting and talking about this with him.”

Net Impact is one of 19 organizations that has signed on with the Coalition of Students Against Sweatshops, and Kessel said that it’s the most active.

While the coalition is pushing the Worker Rights Consortium, Hanley said that both Barnes & Noble and the university are currently affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, which provides a list of vetted companies that the bookstore can work with. Hanley said that the bookstore is allowed to deviate from the list, but must have the company vetted by the Fair Labor Association before it is able to buy from the company.

The coalition is also asking that the bookstore feature $250,000 worth of wholesale Alta Gracia products in various styles and sizes throughout the store. Alta Gracia is an apparel brand that is made in the Dominican Republic and advertises paying its workers a living wage, according to the company. The group requested that the brand be displayed prominently in the store and that the bookstore’s workers wear the brand as its uniform.

Hanley said that he’s worked with students concerned with the issue before and would be willing to work with them again. He said that currently, he has Alta Gracia apparel on the wall to the right of the bookstore’s entrance and has other clothing by the brand throughout the store. Hanley added that last February, Alta Gracia gear was displayed in the store’s center aisle and sold very well.

“It’s a worthy cause,” Hanley said. “We’re doing well in support of Alta Gracia and we’re doing well in support of its cause.”

The bookstore wouldn’t be able to cater to all of the coalition’s demands, Hanley said. Workers in the bookstore are obligated by Barnes & Noble to wear their current uniforms. Hanley said that Alta Gracia can’t provide all of the clothing choices offered at the bookstore.

Hanley said that he looks forward to meeting with the students and that he met with students on this issue last fall.

The group will be contacting Hanley soon and it  has yet to hear from the president’s office about meeting, Kessel said. She said the letter provided dates that the group could meet in a three-week span and that members will send another letter if they don’t hear back by the time the three weeks pass.

Sean Carlin can be reached at sean.carlin@temple.edu or on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

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