The GW Progressive Student Union posted several fliers inviting individuals to participate in a discussion about GW’s use of sweatshops. While students should engage in activities to abate violations of human, labor and civil rights, I am disappointed to see the PSU using false advertising about GW’s practices to garner attendance at its meetings. As the administrator of GW’s Licensing and Trademarks Program, I can assure you that GW has a zero tolerance policy toward vendors using inhumane labor practices to produce GW merchandise. Before child and sweatshop labor became a student and campus concern, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg acted aggressively to ensure T-shirts, clothing and other merchandise bearing the University’s name were not manufactured in sweatshops.
As of Oct. 31, GW has licensing agreements with 104 vendors approved to manufacture goods using the University’s name and trademarks. Through our licensing agent, The Collegiate Licensing Company, and our contract with the Follett Group, we adopted a formal Code of Conduct to ensure that products bearing the marks of GW are produced under healthy, safe and fair working conditions. Further, licensees are required to disclose the names and locations of all factories using the University’s marks and agree to verification and audits when requested. Mechanisms are in place for monitoring these factories. The University has educated our students, staff and faculty regarding our licensing standards and has listed our policies and the approved vendors on the Licensing and Trademarks Program Web page (gwired.gwu.edu/ltp). The University is being pro-active and vigilant to ensure GW sweatshirts are not made by women paid 50 cents an hour, or children, as indicated by the PSU.
The PSU wants GW to sign an agreement with the Worker’s Rights Consortium. They feel this recently formed organization, founded and organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops, is the only organization best prepared to address child labor issues and monitor the factories. Anything short of this alliance with WRC, the PSU feels GW isn’t doing enough. Although the WRC is doing some good things, so is the Fair Labor Association, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, The Collegiate Licensing Company, Follett and countless others.
The University has not joined any organization formed specifically to address these issues for a variety of reasons. Student groups have issues with the Fair Labor Association. Manufacturers have concerns about the WRC methods. But they all have the same end-result, which is to terminate the practice of inhumane working conditions. As expected, both groups have biases based on respective experiences.
The University believes our practices and zero-tolerance stance are sound and effective. We are confident the organizations with whom we partner have made this issue a priority and have taken measures to ensure merchandise bearing the University’s name is manufactured in environments that respect the rights of workers. Each entity has a monitoring component. As I mentioned, we have 104 approved vendors. To date, these vendors utilize 1,817 factories. Review and monitoring of these factories will be handled effectively within the mechanisms currently in place. There is no evidence to date that any licensed vendors are deviating from these agreements.
So, GW Progressive Student Union, is there any situation known to your organization where GW contracts with companies that exploit their workers or utilize child labor? If so, please let us know with the guarantee that those vendors will no longer produce GW merchandise.
-The writer is special assistant to the vice president of student and academic support services.