Saint Mary's joins Worker's Rights Consortium
By NOREEN GILLESPIE
Saint Mary's College officially joined the nationwide movement for sweatshop monitoring Monday, announcing that the College will become a full member in the Worker's Rights Consortium (WRC).
The WRC, developed by the United Students Against Sweatshops in consultation with workers and human rights groups, aims to investigate conditions in factories producing apparel for colleges and universities.
"It seemed to us, as we learned more about the WRC, that the WRC fits the size of the College," said College president Marilou Eldred. "Because the WRC has a grassroots structure, this is important for a college like Saint Mary's."
The decision comes in the wake of Notre Dame's announcement that the University will not join the WRC because of a lack of information about the organization. Notre Dame, a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), requested information about membership from the WRC including budget and mission statement information. The official stance from the University is that the WRC is not an option until this information is obtained.
The difference between the WRC and the FLA is their approach to a manufacturer's violation of organization standards. The FLA advocates a collaborative effort between organizations and corporations to correct violations. The WRC encourages full public disclosure of working conditions.
"This is an example of a case where one decision fits Notre Dame best, and another decision fits Saint Mary's best," Eldred said.
The decision to join the WRC came from a working group formed in early November to investigate Saint Mary's options for joining the anti-sweatshop movement. Because of Notre Dame's example in the anti-sweatshop movement, the College felt sweatshop monitoring was a relevant issue to investigate.
"Because of Notre Dame's leadership, because we are here and because of our relationship with Notre Dame, it was important to look at," Eldred said. "But it was not the only reason we started to look at this. It is part of Catholic social teaching, and it certainly supports the social justice mission."
Members of the working group hope for continued cooperation with Notre Dame in the fight against sweatshops.
"I hope that Notre Dame will respect our decision," said Betsy Station, coordinator for the group and assistant to the president. "We very much respect Notre Dame's leadership on this issue … We feel that for a small Catholic women's college like Saint Mary's, membership in the WRC is the best decision."
Much of the decision to join the WRC focused on the ability Saint Mary's would have to make an impact on the organization, Maureen Capillo, student representative on the working group, said.
"The WRC is the best organization for Saint Mary's to join because it is in the organizational stages," Capillo said. "As a small liberal arts college, Saint Mary's will be heard because of the structure. The FLA is a more top-down organization, where Saint Mary's wouldn't have a voice."
The quantity of Saint Mary's apparel produced also played a role in the decision.
"We don't have any licensing agreements," Eldred said. "Many of the larger institutions who are with the FLA had licensing agreements, giving [the FLA] a more corporate structure."
In addition to suggesting membership in the WRC, the group also proposed a code of conduct for Saint Mary's subcontractors, the implementation of a permanent task force to continue investigation and educational initiatives to widen support and awareness on campus.
The administrative council approved the WRC membership March 29 but held approval on other initiatives until later in the semester.
"We asked that the administrative council decide on the WRC by April 1, because the WRC had a nationwide push for colleges to join by April 1," Station said.
Decisions on the other recommendations were postponed for more discussion, Eldred said.
"We wanted more time to thoroughly study the recommendations. Some of them suggest that we would enter agreements with subcontractors, and we needed time to evaluate that," Eldred said.
Station, Capillo, student representative Callie Kusto and bookstore manager Sandy VanderWerven will attend the WRC's founder's meeting April 7. While introducing Saint Mary's to the consortium for the first time, Eldred also hopes the group will be able to educate administrators.
"We thought that after the meeting, we might be able to gain additional information to help us make these decisions."
All News Stories for Tuesday, April 4, 2000