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FLA names executive director; to begin monitoring factories

By Ryan Gabrielson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 27, 2000
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After months of heavy criticism and the creation of a new labor rights organization, the Fair Labor Association will appoint a director today and take its first step toward actively monitoring factories.

In an announcement expected to come today, the FLA will announce that Sam Brown Jr. has been appointed as the first executive director of the year-old association.

Student groups - like the University of Arizona's branch of Students Against Sweatshops - have attacked the FLA's inability to begin a system to monitor conditions in factories and human rights infractions.

"It's closing in on a year of nothing, so even if this is progress I'm not sure if they should be happy about this," said Avery Kolers, SAS spokesman and philosophy graduate student.

The FLA attributes the slow start to the complexity of the issues it had to face.

"Most of the people at the FLA would agree that it has taken too long," Brown said yesterday from his Washington, D.C. office. "I hope to regularize the process, the monitoring protocol and to have the initial reports within the next six to eight months."

In October, the United Students Against Sweatshops created an alternative monitoring system, the Workers Rights Consortium, with a board composed of university representatives.

The UA group of SAS publicly endorsed the WRC in November, even though the WRC mandates that all universities cut ties with the FLA.

The UA became a member of the FLA in accordance with the resolution signed by UA President Peter Likins following a 10-day SAS sit-in in April.

The resolution also mandated the creation of a human and labor rights task force that will determine the effectiveness of the FLA and whether the UA should remain a member of the association.

On Monday, the SAS presented the WRC to the UA Human and Labor Rights Task Force as an alternative monitoring system to the FLA. SAS members are pleased with the response from the task force, Kolers said.

Another complaint SAS has with the FLA involves the amount of power held by monitored corporations, Kolers said.

"The FLA's flaws are structural. Even if they got Ghandi, it wouldn't change anything," Kolers said. "The lion's share of control is held by the corporations."

Charles Ruff, FLA chairman, said he doesn't believe that student opposition is negative, but instead he is encouraged by it.

"It's wonderful because it shows there are lots of people who care about (the issue of labor rights)," Ruff said. "The fact is, the FLA has the unique capacity to move a set of monitors abroad. There is always going to be a disagreement about what is the exact way to do this."

While members of the FLA are excited and expect a good pace for accomplishing steps toward their goal, members of SAS remain skeptical.

"I'm doubtful this will change the lives of workers," said Tim Bartley, SAS member and sociology graduate student.

Brown will begin his new position on Feb. 7 and the FLA is still taking applications for monitors. Amidst a large amount of criticism, FLA members don't feel they have been working slowly.

"The fact is we have been working diligently," Ruff said.

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