University signs on for labor rights

The manufacturing of the famed Temple “T” and other Temple logos on apparel and goods is set to be guarded by the watchdog Workers’ Rights Consortium following Temple’s agreement to partner with the group earlier this month.

On March 17, Temple officially announced the decision, which will revise the university’s code of conduct in dealing with labor practices for manufactured goods.

The Workers’ Rights Consortium is a nonprofit labor organization that reviews and issues reports on factories around the world that produce licensed goods for colleges and universities.

The more than 180 schools affiliated with the consortium are expected to react to reviews of unfair labor practices in factories manufacturing their products by contacting those firms and attempting to incite change, according to the consortiums bylaws.

The Main Campus student group Temple Coalition of Students Against Sweatshops was formed in August to lobby the university into reviewing its code of conduct and affiliating with the WRC.

Amy Kessel, a senior business management major and one of the founders of TCSAS, said the group branched out of another student organization, Net Impact, to try to develop a focused message of fair labor practices for workers making Temple gear.

Beginning by sending letters to former Acting President Richard Englert and current President Neil Theobald, Kessler said the group initially received no response from the administration and moved on to the the Office of Business Services.

“[The Business Services Department was] receptive to the idea, but didn’t really see the urgency in it in the same way that we did,” Kessel said.

Prior to joining the WRC, Temple did license some of its products through a manufacturing firm in the Dominican Republic called Alta Gracia, which markets itself as a “living wage apparel” firm.

Alta Gracia pays its workers more than three times the minimum wage in the Dominican Republic for apparel workers, according to the firm’s website. It sells its apparel to more than 600 colleges and universities, and is approved by the WRC.

The focus on worker’s rights in the developing world has become of increasing concern recently, following several high profile cases that ended in loss of life and public scrutiny of major corporations.

“I think definitely that all those incidences play together [in influencing the university’s decision],” Kessler said. “It would be really painful to see a burnt down factory with a Temple ‘T’ on the clothing there.”

The university has been involved with the Fair Labor Association, another nonprofit that works with manufacturers and licensers to ensure fair labor practices, since 1999, Richard Rumer, associate vice president of business services, said.

Rumer said the university previously chose not to affiliate with the WRC because it felt that the group, founded in 2000, was not ready organizationally, but its recent growth has caused the university to reconsider and affiliate.

“The university has always been keen on doing the best we can do to ensure our products are manufactured through the best working conditions,” Rumer said, adding that it was a “good additional move” to align with the WRC.

As a member of the WRC, the university will send a letter to the College Licensing Company – through which the university licenses its products – that it has joined the WRC and its products must be manufactured according to the consortium’s bylaws, Rumer said.

The university is currently preparing to send a warning letter to Adidas, which is accused of owing $1.8 million in severance pay to workers at the PT Kizone factory in Indonesia after the factory owners shuttered the factory and fled leaving 2,686 workers out of a job, according to a report by the WRC.

If Adidas does not provide a response to the university’s letter by April 17, the university will then evaluate its relationship with the manufacturer, Rumer said.

On Feb. 12, TCSAS held a rally in which workers from the PT Kizone factory spoke to students about working conditions on that factory, and their struggle to receive their severance pay.

TCSAS marched with the workers to Theobald’s office in Sullivan Hall to deliver letters to the president asking for the university to revise its licensing policies. Kessler said she was allowed to deliver the letter to the president’s office and have meeting with members from Business Services including Rumer and an agreement was made for the university to join the consortium.

John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.

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