Editorial: Sit-in negotiations vital for needed deadline
Students Against Sweatshops' latest clash with President Peter Likins and subsequent sit-in has a particularly vital aim: A deadline that will put the linchpin to labor abuse monitoring in place.
When Likins signed a $7 million contract with Nike Corp. in August 1998, conscientious objectors to the corporation, whose use of workers as young as 13 was documented before the agreement, had to settle for promises to keep Nike to its pledge to better working conditions. Included in the contract, in fact, was a clause allowing the University of Arizona to pull out of the agreement that uniforms 14 UA athletic teams in the now infamous swoosh, if Nike "knowingly violates its code of conduct or overlooks human-rights violations made by subcontractors."
If such a situation surfaces, the corporation has 30 days to rectify the situation, or the University of Arizona pulls out of the contract with the tainted company.
Corporations and the university president have tried to make the deal a little less rankling saying the unholy union might ultimately provide a good outcome for overseas workers, since corporations now have to reckon with an increased number of watching eyes.
Herein lies the new problem though - whose eyes will be turned on potential human rights violators? President Likins chose the U.S. Department of Labor committee called the Fair Labor Association for its monitor. The problem is, the fledgling organization chartered this year is top-heavy with corporate people and soft on its demands for fair labor practices. An alternate group, the Collegiate Licensing Co. is also weak when it comes to making demands on companies prone to using sweatshops.
Though this bodes ill for a meaningful watchdog role, how the committee will behave has yet to be seen. Enter Students Against Sweatshops and their latest four-point resolution and demand that the flabby FLA and CLC adopt it by a deadline or the University of Arizona pull out. Likins read the resolution and refashioned it slightly, echoing the points, at least on the surface.
Broadly they are:
Full public disclosure of factory addresses for apparel companies and their contractors
Assurance that all workers will receive a "living wage," a definitions yet to be determined
Unannounced visits and monitoring of factories
Enforcement of the rights of women workers
The points are critical and the resolution is an exciting opportunity for the university and its student to engage in change that matters, to use their largesses of intelligence, compassion, education and opportunity toward an end that matters critically for untold numbers of people.
The most vivid point of contention, however, and a reason in part for the sit-in that continues today is Likins' refusal to acquiesce to a deadline for the resolutions to be adopted. Students Against Sweatshops have set the deadlines as Aug. 1999 for the FLA and Feb. 2000 for the CLC.
Likins wrote yesterday, "If I am unsatisfied with progress achieved within the framework of FLA in a reasonable time, I will seek alternative means to achieve the goals described above." But he refused to set a deadline.
The resolution is sound and who can in conscience not call for its adoption, or move for its defeat? Refusing to set a deadline, however, does just that - decreases greatly the probability that the resolution will be taken seriously, and addressed in a timely fashion. Institutions by their nature are slow to change and need structure and goads. That is what deadlines are for.
Likins once told the Wildcat, "Younger people feel if they compromise, they have to give up some of their values. Students don't get invited because they don't compromise."
This was used to justify the Collegiate Licensing Co.'s exclusion of students from its panel.
Both parties should take heed. A deadline is needed, that is clear, but the dates can still be negotiated between the students and the president during the sit-in.
The key is to get a shape-up deadline for the monitoring agencies that will be the linchpin in the long-overdue holding of corporations to basic principles of human and worker rights.