Penn will join both the Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium to monitor the production of University-logo apparel, University President Judith Rodin announced yesterday. Rodin sent a letter to the Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility yesterday concurring with their November recommendation that Penn should join both. Rodin cited the complementary nature of the groups as her reason for joining both. "The WRC is focused primarily on those places and those factories that make university and college apparel," Rodin said. "The FLA is focusing on the whole apparel industry." Rodin also said that both groups' commitment to using non-governmental organizations to monitor factories made them appealing. Penn was a member of the FLA until last spring, when pressure from a nine-day student sit-in at College Hall culminated in Rodin's decision to withdraw from the organization. Penn Students Against Sweatshops, which organized the sit-in, claimed that the FLA was too closely linked with corporate interests to monitor factory conditions effectively. PSAS urged that Penn join the then-fledgling WRC because they believed it better protected workers' rights. And PSAS members yesterday repeated their criticisms of the FLA, lashing out at the administration for its decision to join both. "I'm still really disappointed with the president's decision," said College junior and PSAS member Reshma Mehta, who is also a member of the Committee and a Daily Pennsylvanian photographer. "I don't feel like Dr. Rodin or the University administration has been held accountable," she added. Mehta noted that the University had not adequately responded to PSAS' assertion that the FLA's effectiveness is compromised by a conflict of interest with its corporate partners. Mehta also said the administration did not address the groups' concern that the FLA lacked University representation on its governing board and had poor methods for approving its members' monitoring efforts. "The University administration hasn't really answered our questions or addressed the concerns we've raised over the past few months," added Wharton and College sophomore Shawn Dick, a PSAS member. But Rodin maintained that the FLA has come a long way since Penn first withdrew. "I think that in some ways, the FLA became persuaded by the activism of the students against sweatshops and WRC activists that there was more credibility to the process" of monitoring the apparel industry, she said. Rodin also noted that the FLA had worked to increase university representation within the organization after a Penn committee found the levels of representation insufficient last spring. "They are considering, and... we will continue to pressure them to make sure they add another university seat," Rodin said, adding that the FLA has an advisory council strictly for universities. The FLA is backed by the White House and has a longer history than the WRC, which was launched last spring. But in less than a year, the WRC's membership has swelled to almost 70 schools, and it does not accept corporations into its organization like the FLA does. The WRC reserves five of 15 seats on its governing board for university representation, while the FLA currently has one of its 14 governance seats devoted to universities. Rodin noted that though the organizations' approaches to dealing with universities differed, both had a similar philosophy of using non-governmental organizations to monitor labor conditions. "One place where they look similar is that it looks like they are going to increasingly rely on NGOs to do their monitoring, and I think that's very valuable," Rodin explained. But PSAS member Matt Grove warned that the portion of factories that the FLA requires its members to monitor is too low to ensure safe working conditions. "Would you feel comfortable eating at McDonald's if you knew only 15 percent of them nationwide had been inspected?" the College junior asked. "That's our biggest problem." Grove didn't specify what action PSAS would take in the future, but said it was likely that the group do something in response to Rodin's decision. "It seems clear that since President Rodin and the administration still don't seem accountable to the questions that we raise, we would feel legitimate with just about any tactic," Grove said.Comments powered by Disqus
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