What Should the Stanford Label Mean?

[Op-Ed in the Stanford Daily, May 24, 2007, originally posted at http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/5/24/opedWhatShouldTheStanfordLabelMean]

When you wear that Stanford logo on a shirt, or send a Stanford cap to a relative, what do you want to be able to say about the workers who made your clothing? At this writing, 169 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Cornell, Georgetown and the entire University of California system, are ahead of Stanford in opposing sweatshops. All of these institutions have joined the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor rights monitoring organization aimed at the manufacturing of products bearing university and college logos. Unfortunately, Stanford has not joined the WRC, and currently has no independent monitoring mechanisms or Code of Conduct in place for the manufacturing of its commercial apparel. In order to become the enlightened institution it claims to be, Stanford should also join the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP) of the WRC, joining thirty-two institutions who have already done so, including UC, Columbia, and Duke.

The WRC and DSP together would ensure that factory conditions are humane. Workers would be guaranteed a living wage, the right to unionize, freedom from harassment and intimidation, and a safe working environment. Furthermore, by requiring licensees to sign long- term contracts with their suppliers, the DSP will stabilize an industry known for constantly shifting its production from country to country, and provide garment workers with a reasonable level of job security.

The DSP is implemented gradually in different phases over the course of three years. In this way, licensees get time to comply with the new regulations, and the university gets a chance to evaluate the DSP as it becomes reality. These provisions should make it possible for Stanford to implement the DSP, as other universities have done already.

We do not think that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) is a good alternative to the WRC. The FLA essentially relies on companies monitoring themselves, whereas the WRC requires independent monitoring of factories. Independent monitoring is necessary for the manufacturing of university products for the same reason that it is necessary in other areas such as health and safety regulations for restaurants. While the WRC only monitors apparel factories, we think that real monitoring of the largest part of our licensed products is better than ineffective monitoring of all of them.

Advocates of the WRC/DSP often hear arguments pointing to the difficulty of monitoring factories and the fact that collegiate clothing is a small percentage of the U.S. apparel market.  Other arguments are put forward, for example that the WRC/DSP interferes with or weakens the FLA. But there are both moral and strategic reasons for the university to become part of the WRC/DSP process. The daunting nature of the worldwide sweatshop problem is no reason to shun engagement with one of the best current approaches to it. As Bethany Woolman of Sweatshop Free Stanford has said, "it takes someone with integrity to take the first step." Arguments that you may hear opposing the WRC/DSP have generally been debated extensively within the WRC and have received a full hearing at institutions that have later committed to the DSP (see http://www.workersrights.org/dsp.asp for a list of links). The demonstrated ability of the consortium to critique its own practices and to adopt new ones is one of the reasons we believe Stanford should join.

For us, the bottom line is really this: What is being produced here is our clothing. We care not only about how it looks, but also about how it is produced. Our contracts with our licensees should specify that we care about all of these things. But while the size, color and fabric of a Stanford T-shirt are easy to verify, the working conditions in which it was produced are not. Joining the DSP of the WRC is the best way to verify that our contracts are fulfilled, and to ensure that licensees understand the clause in our contract that says NO SWEAT.

Signed by 14 Stanford faculty/staff