September 19, 2018 | ° F

U. to pledge apparel will not be made in sweatshops

After two months of advocating for University-brand products to be manufactured in factories without sweatshop conditions, Oxfam Rutgers has finally reached their goal.

University President Richard L. McCormick informed Oxfam Rutgers President Parisa Kharazi by e-mail Tuesday that the University will be joining the Designated Suppliers Program, which will ensure University apparel is made in humanitarian working environment.

"We fully support the DSP and its principles, including the payment of a living wage and freedom of association," McCormick stated in a letter to the Workers Rights Consortium, informing the University's participation with DSP. "We believe that the DSP is a worthy effort that will take us closer to the goal of sustainable and humane working conditions in those factories that produce college and university branded products."

Assistant Director of Trademark Licensing Marybeth Schmutz said the University has been in the WRC, an independent labor rights monitoring organization, for several years but said it took students' efforts for the University to consider joining the DSP.

"I guess the DSP was a little bit off our radar," Schmutz said. "To be honest, it sometimes takes students to step up and say, 'You need to be paying attention to this,' and we did."

McCormick praised students in Oxfam Rutgers for their efforts in a letter to Parisa Kharazi, a Rutgers College sophomore.

"You and your fellow students have my admiration and my thanks for your efforts to promote worker rights and fair labor standards," McCormick said.

Oxfam Rutgers, an organization focused on finding solutions toward human injustice, decided to advocate for this cause after being approached by Zack Knorr, a representative of the United Students Against Sweatshops, Parisa Kharazi said.

With 43 other college and universities around the country already signed on with DSP, Oxfam thought the University should be number 44, said Farbai Kharazi, Oxfam Rutgers secretary.

"[DSP] has a lot to do with what we believe in," Parisa Kharazi said. "We're a humanitarian group. We fight for human rights and [sweatshops are] a human rights violation."

The group's first call to action was on Valentine's Day as a part of a nationwide movement, Parisa Kharazi said.

"We gave a letter to President McCormick and on it, it said, 'Will you show support for sweatshop workers this Valentine's Day?'"

After McCormick passed this letter onto Schmutz and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Delia Pitts, they set up a meeting with Parisa Kharazi to discuss the University joining the DSP.

"Mrs. Schmutz has been working on this for a very long time and she knows basically everything about the DSP and why we should sign on," Parisa Kharazi said. "I think that's why McCormick contacted her."

Parisa and Farbai Kharazi paid a visit to McCormick's office each week following the meeting with a copy of the same letter they gave him on Valentine's Day, stating their cause.

"I think if we really want something to happen, it's important to be persistent and to push to reach our goal," Parisa Kharazi said.

She said she thinks McCormick handled the situation well by responding to Oxfam Rutgers' letters.

"I know a lot of universities that have been working on this campaign for years and their president hasn't even responded to their letters," Parisa Kharazi said. "I'm really grateful he's listening to what the Rutgers community has to say. I think he responded very well to our letters and petitions."

Farbai Kharazi commended McCormick for quickly addressing Oxfam Rutgers' cause.

"The fact that we got President McCormick to agree to this in a few months is really great and shows he really does care about what students want," she said. "He basically listens to what we have to say and that means a lot."

Oxfam Rutgers has plans to inform the University community about the new manufacturing arrangement next semester and what it will mean anyone purchasing apparel in the future.

"I think some students will be worried about how this will change the prices and we're going to try to tell them what's going to happen," Farbai Kharazi said.

Parisa Kharazi said the price change will be very minimal and will make a difference to workers making University apparel.

"The estimates are going to be very slight," Schmutz said "Maybe a $40 sweatshirt will now be $42."

Schmutz said the University is still figuring out the logistics of the agreement at this time.

A letter was submitted to the Justice Department for a request for a business review letter to make a determination if there are antitrust issues involved with this, Schmutz said. The Justice Department declined to write the letter and said that there might be.

"We're kind of on hold a little bit until after the next presidential election when the WRC plans to resubmit a request for a business review letter to find out if we are in violation of any laws with this program," she said. "In the meantime, we're beginning work on more of a fair trade model so that licensees can voluntarily opt to source only in those factories that need to be complaint with the DSP," Schmutz said.

It's a slightly different model but we expect it to be short term, she said.

When and if the University does join DSP, Parisa Kharazi said the University's participation will be a gradual process.

"When a school signs on to the DSP, there is a six-month grace period," she said. "In the first year, 25 percent of the apparel has to be from factories under the DSP conditions. The second year is 50 percent and the third is 75 percent."

If the University continues to do this after the third year, it's their decision whether they want to make the apparel made 100 percent under the GSP conditions, she said.

"It's a gradual process but Rutgers signing onto this agreement is just one step further to making our campus sweatshop free," Parisa Kharazi said.

She thinks her efforts with Oxfam Rutgers will send a message to other students to make changes they think are necessary.

"We've been working really hard on this campaign," she said. "And I think it's a great way for students to know that if they believe strongly in something, it's possible for it to be done. If you really believe in something, it can be possible as long as you never give up."

Caitlin Mahon

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