SAW is currently (actually in 2008) pressuring our administration to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program and show that UNC respects the rights of garment workers who make our licensed apparel. SAW and allies led a 16-day sit-in at the end of the Spring 08 term, during exams. Although then-Chancellor Moeser decided to arrest students instead of adopt the DSP, the sit-in successfully brought the DSP back on the table for discussion in the Licensing Committee for the 08-09 school year.
Check out our website on the sit-in here.
Join our facebook group for the DSP!
What is the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP)?
The DSP is a responsible apparel purchasing program that uses universities’ buying power to support improved working conditions in factories. The DSP provides a concrete plan to not just respond to violations of workers’ rights but to actively guarantee that the rights of apparel workers throughout the world are being respected. Instead of contributing to the race to the bottom, the DSP ensures that university apparel is made under humane conditions and encourages improvements in the apparel industry.
Why do we need the DSP?
The the extreme pressure on apparel companies to produce at the lowest cost (AKA “the race to the bottom”) has forced the closure of many factories that have improved wages and working conditions by; this leaves little hope for improvement in sweatshop-like conditions. Without the DSP, thousands of workers that have organized for improvements at work have lost their jobs due to factory closures. Under current conditions, workers that stand up for their most basic rights (unforced overtime, safe drinking water, freedom of association and right to leave work when they are injured or sick) are often punished by factory closures or unjust firings.
Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium, presented their new study at an April 1, 2008, meeting of UNC’s Labor Licensing Code Advisory Committee. The study, which researched 1,000 factories in 12 countries that produce collegiate apparel, found a full list of violations. The percentages below represent the amount of factories surveyed which are in violation of rights protected under UNC’s labor codes of conduct.
92% – forced overtime
92% -verbal abuse
94% – violated freedom of association
84% -did not explain pay
71% – excessive overtime
59% – did not pay legally mandated overtime
With the DSP, we are supporting a collaborative process to improve working conditions in the apparel industry: apparel companies have an incentive to enforce their codes of conduct, workers have protection to stand up for the rights and customers can be sure that the apparel that have our universities name on it are made free from exploitation.
The Larger Context – USAS Sweat-Free Campaign
In 1999, after a student-led sit-in, UNC joined a national movement by adopting anti-sweatshop labor codes of conduct for our university apparel. Since that time, the country has seen codes of conduct used successfully to support workers’ efforts to achieve positive change in individual factories. But it is also true that even in factories in which there have been significant gains, these gains have been sharply limited and are under constant threat due to the destructive pressures of the apparel industry, and that the majority of university apparel continues to be made in factories that violate workers’ rights. Workers producing university garments continue to endure abusive treatment, excessive hours, wages that are insufficient to meet basic needs, and illegal repression when they organize for improvements.
In order to make the principles behind our codes of conduct a reality, we believe our universities need to strengthen our policies and set a higher standard. USAS has launched a new campaign to get university apparel to be produced in a set of sweat-free designated factories. Each of these factories would be required to have freedom of association so that workers can have a voice at work. Each factory will be required to pay workers a living wage, as negotiated by worker representatives. And university licensees will be required to order products at prices and in sufficient quantities to allow the factories to pay a living wage and provide secure employment. This proposal is motivated by the following basic realities:
- Workers need a voice at work to prevent sweatshop abuses. Workers are the best monitors of their working conditions. Unlike outside auditors – which may visit a factory once every several months or years – workers are on the shop floor day-in and day-out and they know better than anyone else what problems exist. When workers have a voice on the job through a union or other organization, they have the power to advocate for their interests and correct abuses when they occur, without being forced to rely on outside entities. Yet most factories producing university goods refuse to recognize workers’ organizations and consequently workers have little power to prevent abuses.
- Current wages are insufficient to meet workers’ basic needs. Employment in factories producing for major multinational brands should be a ladder out of poverty. But by any reasonable measure, wages in factories producing collegiate apparel are woefully inadequate. Even according to official government data, wages of collegiate apparel workers in most major apparel producing countries fall well below what is deemed as necessary to cover basic subsistence needs for a family. At current wage levels, in order to provide meals for their families that meet basic, minimal nutrition standards workers would need to spend 50%-75% of their incomes solely on food; as a result, workers families’ diets frequently lack critical sources of nutrients such as meat, fish and fruit. Rigorous cost of living analyses show that apparel workers typically earn roughly one half to one fourth of what they need to provide basic nutrition, shelter, energy, clothing, education, and transportation – what could be called a living wage.
- Wages are kept low by price pressure from university licensees and other multinational brands. A key force keeping wages so low is the unreasonably low prices paid by brands to contract factories. In recent years, brands have demanded dramatic cuts in the prices they are willing to pay for their goods. For example, according to U.S. government data, during the past decade the price for cotton knit shirts paid by U.S. brands to factories in the top 15 producing countries fell by an average of 49.7%. By relentlessly demanding lower prices, brands squeeze their contractors and effectively place a ceiling on workers’ wages. While labor costs are a small portion of a factory’s overall production costs, they are the cost factor over which managers have the most control. Thus managers feel tremendous pressure to keep wages to an absolute minimum. And because in most apparel producing countries there is little meaningful enforcement of labor law, factories can cut labor costs through illegal means – such as paying wages below the legal minimum – with impunity.
- Brands prevent improvements by failing to reward factories that respect worker rights. Complying with labor standards entails increased costs: it costs more to pay the minimum wage than to ignore it; it costs more to buy necessary safety equipment than to avoid such purchases. Yet brands, including university licensees, rarely reward factories that take on the costs of respecting worker rights by taking into account these expenses when negotiating prices or by directing business to factories that standout for their compliance with labor standards. As a result, factories that do opt to accept the added costs of compliance are – perversely – made less likely to succeed than nearby factories that violate workers’ rights. It is thus not surprising that so few factories respect worker rights standards.
- It is economically feasible to substantially raise wages. The economics of the industry are such that workers’ wages could be raised by substantial margins without factories or brands losing profits or consumers paying substantially higher prices. Wages typically account for about 1-1.5% of the final retail cost of a garment. For example, for a shirt sold on campus for $20.00, workers would typically be paid about 25 cents. If the shirt’s retail price were to be increased to $20.25, and the additional 25 cents went directly to workers, wages could be doubled. If brands absorb some of the increased costs, then price increases would be that much smaller.
- For workers to achieve truly sweat-free conditions, we must create an alternative to the Wal-Mart model. University products typically comprise a small minority of the goods being produced at a given factory; the rest of the factory’s production is for big box retailers or other non-collegiate brands that are not committed to our universities’ standards. We cannot ensure that the rights of workers making university apparel are respected so long as this apparel is being produced along side Wal-Mart products and under the sweatshop conditions that Wal-Mart and other brands have established as norms for the industry. Only by creating an alternative model, in which business is contingent upon respect for workers’ rights rather than solely low prices, will it be possible for workers making collegiate apparel to win truly sweatshop-free conditions. Under our proposal, university apparel will be made in factories that produce primarily for the university market where workers will truly be able to exercise their rights free from the destructive pressures of the apparel industry at large.
USAS began the Sweat-free Campus Campaign with the vision that our campus apparel would no longer be made in sweatshops. The current proposal is needed to bring us to the day when collegiate apparel factories truly are places where workers are treated with dignity and respect, have a voice on the job to ensure fair conditions, can count on secure and steady employment, and earn wages that allow them to better their lives. This is a step universities must take to finally make their anti-sweatshop commitment a reality.
UNC Sweat-Free History
1997-1998: United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) was formed, in response to the oppressive, dangerous, and often illegal conditions under which workers produced collegiate apparel. USAS is a grassroots organization composed of university student activists. Point of unity and campaign successes can be found at the USAS website.
1997: Duke University becomes the first university to adopt a code of conduct that affirms the rights of workers who manufacture Duke apparel, due to ethical conscience and efforts of Jim Wilkerson, the Director of Licensing (to present-day). See the 1998 NY Times article and a 2004 letter suspending Duke’s contract with Land’s End.
1999: USAS grew to encompass affiliate groups at over 100 campuses across the nation.
April 1999: The administration at UNC stalled anti-sweatshop efforts through committees and bureaucracy. In respose, USAS student activists at UNC-Chapel Hill staged a 72-hour sit-in at South Buildin, the UNC’s administrative building. They pressured the University into enacting a code of conduct governing conditions in factories of licensees producing UNC apparel. The codes ensured adequate health and safety conditions, the right to organize and freedom from discrimination. UNC became a member of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) to monitor factories to ensure compliance with the codes.
Summer 1999: While student activists were away, the University affiliated with the corporate-controlled Fair Labor Association (FLA) that asked for voluntary code of conduct compliance, rather than requiring it.
2000-present: Although many universities have adopted codes of conduct, these codes have not been enforced by licensees — for a variety of reasons. The WRC published numerous reports indicating that once worker victories were made — due to student and university pressure — licensees such as Nike, Steve and Barry’s, Adidas, and Russell simply stopped placing orders in those factories. Factories in which workers had fought for their rights and won, closed down because of licensee “cutting-and-running.” This practice continues today.
2000-2005: The WRC and USAS researched ways to enforce codes of conduct and ensure that licensees made a commitment to supporting workers’ rights. In consultation with workers around the world, international allies, and international interns, they came up with the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), introduced to university administrators in 2005.
2005-present: Thirty-eight universities have adopted the DSP, including Duke, whose licensing director is the chair of the DSP working group. To see Duke’s official statement by their Vice-President click here. To see some of their press on the DSP, click here.
2005-Spring 2007: The Designated Suppliers Program was presented to UNC-CH administration. It has been stalled in committee that has not been able to reach a consensus decision to recommend to Chancellor Moeser that UNC should adopt the DSP.
Present (out of date): Students, workers, faculty, and community members are organizing to show Chancellor Moeser that we don’t want UNC-CH apparel to be manufactured in sweatshops. While we have spent the past two years debating these issues in committee, stalling and hesitating, workers have been abused and fired, their livelihoods lost.
For more information on the Designated Suppliers Program, including the policy document as outlined by the DSP working group, legal opinions, economic arguments, university statements in support of the DSP, and supporting academic research, please click here.