On Thursday, the University's Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility recommended that Penn join both rival sweatshop-monitoring organizations, the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium. If accepted by President Rodin, the decision would represent a choice of practicality over ideological boldness. Unfortunately, that is a decision that University had to make. By straddling the fence -- just as 13 other schools, including Columbia and Brown, have done -- Penn would ensure membership in whichever organization proves most capable of monitoring Third World factory conditions, which is important. But the move would also underscore Penn's continued unwillingness to be a leader in the anti-sweatshop movement. On a practical level, we endorse this recommendation. Joining both organizations provides the best chance that labor conditions at factories producing Penn apparel will be monitored at some point in the near future. But on an ideological level, however, we continue to support the WRC. We have long supported the organization because of its foundation in human rights groups and its support for a living wage, a feature of Penn's own Code of Conduct but not the FLA charter. While the University is obviously following the most expedient route, we are troubled by its inability to explain itself. In explaining the body's recommendation, Committee Chairman Gregory Possehl cited the "complementarity" of the two organizations. This, too, is puzzling. The FLA and the WRC do not support each other, and neither feels the other has a need to exist. The whole equals no more than the sum of its parts. We hope that President Rodin will be able to communicate a convincing rationale for her decision to accept or reject the committee's recommendation. Ultimately, whatever Rodin decides, this issue has most definitely not been put to rest. Effective monitoring will come from the one organization that gets business, labor, human rights groups and universities to sit down at the same table, which they are not doing currently. But as long as that table belongs to the FLA or the WRC, at least Penn -- even if it refuses to abide by an ideological stand -- will have a seat.Comments powered by Disqus
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