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Oppose FLA's flawed practices

We at Rutgers University Students Against Sweatshops are calling on everybody on campus to stop supporting sweatshops. How can you do this? You can help by joining our campaign to get the University to disaffiliate from the Fair Labor Association (FLA). This may seem counter-intuitive at first blush, but read on.

Since the FLA was formed about a decade ago, it has consistently proven that it is not an effective anti-sweatshop monitor. This organization was formed in 1997 in response to rising awareness in the United States about unsuitable worker conditions in the factories where many products are made. When workers in these factories attempt to unionize, or otherwise address these issues, they are either fired or face violent harassment. This is where organizations like the FLA are supposed to intervene to correct these problems.

But the FLA has repeatedly shown it is actually an impediment to workers' rights. Its approach has either been to do nothing or release reports that undermine workers' complaints. Usually the FLA stalls on releasing a definitive report about a company's violations of our University's code of conduct. If there is considerable pressure built up by workers and responsible consumers, the FLA simply puts the company in question under a "special review," which does not actually require the company to make any real changes. Even here at the University, the FLA has acted contrary to the interests of workers. When the University was considering cutting its contract with Russell Athletic, the FLA gave Russell's treatment of its workers a favorable review. But this turned out to be false. The University acknowledged this and cut its contract with the company, as did more than 100 other universities across the country. Even Sports Authority removed Russell Athletic from its shelves. Eventually, Russell Athletic itself acknowledged its unjust treatment of workers. This leads one to wonder: What exactly are the FLA's motives?

One does not have to wonder very long: One-third of the FLA's board of directors is composed of corporate representatives who represent organizations like Nike, Adidas Group and Gildan. All of these companies have infamous records of violating the rights of workers. To us, this seems like a massive conflict of interest. This flawed governing structure results in poor investigatory methods and weak "wrist-slaps" for companies who violate workers' rights. We take issue with the FLA and its "services," and we feel every student should too.

We have presented this issue to the administration, and some progress has been made. A meeting has been arranged with FLA CEO Auret van Heerden to discuss the aforementioned issues with us and with the University's administration. We call on students around campus to come to this meeting to listen to what he has to say for the FLA's failure to properly protect the rights of workers. Come to Winants Hall on the College Avenue campus on Feb. 25 at 2 p.m., and tell your administration that you don't want to support a smokescreen for sweatshops.


Richard Garzon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and philosophy.

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