Today’s Daily front cover prominently features a very interesting story about Azia Kim’s involvement in ROTC, but the biggest news of the day–that Stanford is joining the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA)–received no notice on the news pages, and was relegated to a long op-ed by President Hennessy.
The WRC is a consortium of colleges pledging to ensure sweatshop labor is not used to produce licensed apparel with their logos, with a governing board split evenly among university administrators, representatives of United Students Against Sweatshops, and human and labor rights experts. Their website has a list of useful FAQs. (One thing to note, in particular, is that the WRC requires participating colleges to pay 1% of their gross licensing revenues up to a maximum of $50,000. I’d be curious to know how much that would end up being for Stanford.) The FLA, by contrast, is an organization with more corporate influence; according to its website, it’s a “multi-stakeholder coalition” of corporations, universities, and NGOs. Hennessy makes a good point in his op-ed that an optimal solution would have both labor activists and corporations working together in one organization; I imagine that either side would be very distrustful of an organization dominated by the other side.
Notably, Hennessy said that Stanford will not join the DSP, or Designated Suppliers Program, an additional program of the WRC that takes a significantly more activist role in ensuring sweatfree labor. In this program, universities are obligated to shift their licensed apparel (over a several year period) into factories which primarily produce college apparel. The argument is that doing so ensures that the colleges will have significant negotiating power. (Technically, the DSP will allow factories in which less than 50% of the apparel is from colleges, so long as the rest of the apparel comes from makers that will abide by the DSP’s standards, but that seems unlikely.)
Hennessy makes two arguments against joining the DSP. First, he argues that, since Stanford and the universities in the DRC make up a small portion of the college market, the program is unlikely to be successful. Second, if the program
Two more potential arguments against the DSP come to mind. First, it seems a very anti-market tendency to force collegiate apparel to be produced in a select number of factories; I’d want to know whether this might not lead to big inefficiencies. At the very least, there should be economic research into the question. Second, there is a moral question of what responsibilities a university has. It seems clear that the university has an obligation not to directly cause harm–thus, the university should not have its apparel produced in sweatshops that violate basic human rights. There is also an argument for the university taking principled stands, even if the direct effect of the university’s involvement is arguably negligible–divestment campaigns would go under this category. But is it within a university’s responsibility to take an explicitly activist role in solving all the world’s problems? The university is a wonderful thing, as a place for the pursuit of knowledge both for its own sake and for the betterment of the world. Perhaps it’s best for the university to focus its attention on these goals, and let other worthy organizations (e.g., NGOs) more directly fight the world’s battles in these matters.
A few other thoughts on the story:
Phil Knight, founder of Nike, recently gave $105 million to the business school. He’s spoken out publically against the WRC, writing an op-ed in the University of Oregon student paper against it, and refusing to donate any more to Oregon. Seventeen months later, Oregon left the WRC and Knight gave a big donation. I’d be curious what role Knight’s influence was in all of this. It definitely seems like a very gutsy move of Hennessy to join the WRC in spite of Knight’s influence. It also raises the question of to what extent universities are controlled by these rich donors and to what extent they should be.
I’m also curious what role organized labor has in the WRC. Knight’s op-ed suggests that the AFL-CIO is funding the WRC with the goal of bringing jobs back the US. I wonder how much that is true. It would certainly be ironic, given Stanford’s history with labor unions, if the WRC had a very strong union influence. After a brief look a the WRC’s website, I found surprisingly little language about unions.
About the media coverage of all this:
The Azia Kim media storm broke last Thursday, two days after the student sit-in over the sweatfree campaign. Who knows what sort of effect this had on sweatfree. What would have happened if people had spent this last week discussing sweatfree instead of Azia Kim?
It’s also interesting that today’s Daily also features an op-ed from the sweatfree coalition explaining their sit-in, seemingly unaware that Hennessy was going to make this big announcement today. The timing of this all is curious. Hopefully the Daily will report thoroughly on Hennessy’s announcement, getting perspectives from the administration, the sweatfree campaign, and also uninvolved students. Also, it certainly seems newsworthy for the Daily to followup on what the administration is going to do to the students in the sit-in, both in terms of criminal proceedings and judicial affairs.