In the past year, nearly 70 colleges and universities have joined onto the Workers Rights Consortium. The WRC is an independent program for certifying companies’ labor practices. It is the only true way to ensure GW clothes are not made in the oppressive sweatshop conditions that we hear about in the news every day.
The WRC was developed by labor, religious and human rights organizations in consultation with workers in the garment industry. It consists of a system to verify and inspect conditions in factories producing apparel for colleges and universities. Given the scope of the industry, the WRC does not provide for certification of factories or companies. Rather, it seeks to open conditions in the apparel industry to public scrutiny and respond to the needs of the workers sewing products for colleges. Already neighboring Georgetown and American universities, apparel giants such as the University of Michigan, as well as smaller schools like Middlebury College have signed onto the WRC. To this date, GW has not. It is time to ask why.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has publicly stated that he believes GW does not sell enough clothes to really make a difference. Then I must ask, President Trachtenberg, what if your child was working in a sweatshop 70 hours a week making GW baseball hats? Would you still believe that GW could not make a difference?
Other, less blunt members of the GW administration have stated that they believe this is an important issue, and they also believe GW clothes are not made in sweatshops. Well, if that is true, then we must question why GW will not join an organization designed to ensure that sweatshop conditions do not continue. However, sweatshops have been discovered making clothes for the GEAR Company – one of the largest producers of GW apparel. We students must question why GW has not taken any steps to ensure GW clothes are made by people paid a living wage in a safe working environment, free of forced pregnancy tests and mandatory overtime.
Almost a year ago, members of the Progressive Student Union met with Helen Cannaday Saulny, licensing director for GW, to discuss the issue of sweatshops used in the production of clothes carrying the GW logo. At that meeting, PSU presented demands and left with the promise that the dialogue would continue shortly.
Well, we are still waiting for the promised meeting. We have called Cannaday Saulny’s office many times only never to have our calls returned. We sent a letter outlining our demands to her office, as well as to President Trachtenberg, Dean of Students Linda Donnels and General Counsel Dennis Blumer. As has become typical, we have received no response. If the administration is simply hoping we will forget this issue, I can assure you that will not happen. I would like to assure the administration that without appropriate action, the problems of the garment industry, as well as concerned students working for change, will not go away.
I am sure President Trachtenberg would like to avoid embarrassing sit-ins. If that is the case, then the time has come for GW to act as a responsible member of the global economy, for GW to open up a dialogue and listen to its students. The time has come for GW to join the WRC.
-The writer, a senior majoring in sociology, is a member of the Progressive Student Union.