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FLA unconcerned with student activists

By Ryan Gabrielson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 1, 2000
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During the past week, the Fair Labor Association has continued to lose university members as the University of Loyola-Chicago joined the Workers' Rights Consortium.

Another anti-FLA sit-in began at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and students at Yale University, in New Haven, Conn., have organized a rally to persuade their administration to join the WRC.

Student human and labor rights groups are beginning to see the tide turn against the FLA, said Avery Kolers, UA Students Against Sweatshops spokesman and philosophy graduate student.

"It looks to me like they're (the universities) taking exit as a real option," said Kolers. "This is a real victory."

While the FLA still has more than 100 university members - including the University of Arizona as a founding university member - the WRC has now entered double digits with 10 universities.

Student sit-ins have been the cause of many recent moves by universities from the FLA to the WRC.

The University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison all staged successful sit-ins in their university presidents' offices.

In Madison, demonstrators were pepper sprayed and later forcefully removed from Chancellor David Ward's office, resulting in the arrest of 48 on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to resisting arrest.

Through all this, FLA Chairman Charles Ruff said he thinks the FLA will be the best choice as a factory monitoring system for universities.

"We disagree with our friends at the USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) about which will be the more effective vehicle," Ruff said. "I find it disturbing to the extent that universities will make decisions based on who's making the most noise about it."

On Monday, the FLA sent a letter addressed to the university community. The letter outlines the FLA's commitment to improving labor conditions around the world.

"We believe that the FLA code and comprehensive monitoring system provide schools with an essential framework through which violations of workers' rights in factories both in the United States and abroad can be addressed," the letter stated.

The letter goes on to attack the abilities of the WRC, stating that its monitoring will be more scattered while the FLA's will be consistent.

"Unlike the FLA, the WRC does not provide for any regular monitoring of factories," the letter stated.

One of SAS's most frequent complaints with the FLA is the amount of time it has taken to implement its monitoring system, which has yet to be achieved. The letter addresses this is a concern, stating that it has recently taken steps to ensure that the process speeds up.

"With the recent appointment of Sam Brown as executive director, the FLA is now moving quickly to implement its code and monitoring system," the letter stated.

The FLA has begun the process of hiring monitors and has received monitoring accreditation, Ruff said.

While the FLA has repeatedly said this, it has failed to convince student human and labor rights activists, Kolers said.

"We're spending $50,000 of Arizona tax payers' money so that they can hire public relations people to put out FLA propaganda," Kolers said. "I think the universities' support is eroding."

The main conflict that SAS has with the FLA is the involvement of corporations such as Nike and Levi Strauss & Co.

Today SAS will meet with UA President Peter Likins to clarify the language of the resolution signed last April, ending the 10-day sit-in.

SAS thinks that although the resolution allows the UA to remain a member of the FLA, it is not a mandate, said Rachel Wilson, SAS spokeswoman and psychology graduate student.

Likins has repeatedly stated his support for the FLA and his commitment to remain a member at least until August 2000 - when the resolution states the UA Human and Labor Rights Task Force will determine if the FLA has met all mandates.

The task force will then give Likins its recommendation to aide him in his decision to either remain a member of the FLA or seek an alternative monitoring system.

Through all the arguments presented by both supporters of the FLA and the WRC, Ruff said that the FLA will be able to complete the task at hand.

"We are in a position to provide independent and fair monitoring," Ruff said.

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