GW may join anti-sweatshop group

GW may soon sign a declaration that would allow a watchdog group to investigate the working conditions of the University’s outside contractors, officials said last week.

In March 2007, the University pledged it would sign the membership letter with the Workers Right Consortium, progressive student leaders said. Thomas Richards, a member of the Progressive Student Union, spearheaded the movement to persuade the University to sign the document, and the says the debate between students and administrators on this issue is more than eight years old.

“The University finally dropped their policy objections to the WRC last year,” said Richards, a sophomore. “The University is obligated to sign the WRC and any claims to the contrary are simply untrue.”

Signing the letter would officially affiliate GW with the WRC, a supervisory body that investigates working conditions in factories around the world to prevent apparel sold in the U.S. from being produced by sweatshop labor.

GW administrators said the document has been stuck in legal counsel, but could be signed by the end of this week.

“The review process for membership into WRC is just about complete,” Helen Cannaday Saulny, assistant vice president student and academic support services, wrote in an e-mail.

Richards said he was pleased by the recent progress, but added that the University was running out of time to act. The Student Association Socially Responsible Initiative commission allocated money this year to pay annual dues to the WRC.

“If they delay past July, the funding the WRC received from the (SRI) commission will expire,” Richards said. “It will be very disappointing if the University lets it come to that.”

Junior Cory Struble, president of the College Democrats, said his organization supported the PSU’s efforts when they heard the funds allocated for the WRC were set to expire and would not roll over.

“Holding up the signing of the WRC in legal review means another year that the workers who manufacture GW’s apparel go without a guarantee of rights,” Struble said. “And quite frankly, that’s one year too long.”

Struble added he was troubled by the administration’s delay and said he and some of his fellow CD members contacted Saulny, who has been the liaison between administrators and students on this issue.

“Students care about where their hippo T-shirt comes from,” Struble said. “Signing on to the WRC is important because it certifies that the University will not use factories that have no respect for human rights to produce its line of clothing.”

Sophomore Amanda Formica, an active member of both the PSU and the SRI commission, said the document had been passed by GW’s legal counsel and was on its way to senior administrators – including University President Steven Knapp – for final approval.

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