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Likins stands by FLA as rivaling labor rights group gains support

By Ryan Gabrielson
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 2, 2000
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With both the Workers' Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association growing in membership and gaining momentum, the question over which factory monitoring system will be more effective is becoming simpler, UA President Peter Likins said yesterday.

Since April, the University of Arizona has been a member of the FLA, and Likins has pledged to remain in it as long as it presents a capable way of monitoring factories that produce UA apparel.

The UA branch of Students Against Sweatshops has, in the past, stated opposition to the FLA based on two factors.

The first SAS objection is that they believe the FLA will announce its intentions to inspect certain factories prior to arrival, which Likins said is contrary to its planned procedures. The second SAS claim is that the structure of the FLA gives corporations a large amount of power.

The first concern of SAS is a moot point, according to Likins.

"One of the principles of the FLA is that it institutes unannounced monitoring," Likins said.

Bard College, in Hudson N.Y., is the fourth school to join the WRC since its creation in October. The WRC also includes Brown University in Providence, R.I., Loyola University in New Orleans and Haverford College, in Haverford, Pa.

"We're developing pilot projects, making contacts and trying to include the global south," said WRC coordinator Maria Roeper.

By making contacts in South America, where many of the factories that would be inspected are located, the WRC hopes to install a more effective monitoring system than the FLA.

Roeper said bringing in local people, who speak the language and understand the politics and standard of living in those affected areas, will make the WRC a superior monitoring system.

The WRC's Advisory Council is expected to meet later this month to draw up the monitoring plans and to add more positions to the council.

"We want the truth and informed decisions on how to improve conditions," Roeper said.

On Thursday, the FLA announced that Sam Brown Jr. would be its first executive director. The FLA also announced that it plans to institute its monitoring system in the next six months, and it is now taking applications for monitoring jobs.

The FLA now has 161 colleges and universities as members - the UA being the third to join and a founding member - along with corporations on its board.

The UA joined the FLA shortly before SAS's 10-day sit-in last April, which led to a resolution signed by Likins.

The resolution demands that four requirements must be met by the FLA for the UA to remain a member. Those four mandates are full disclosure of factory locations that produce UA apparel and other products, which resulted in Nike disclosing factory locations last October, an independent monitoring system, women's rights and the creation of a living wage for factory workers.

Likins said that the FLA should be able to complete the first three mandates, but that living wage is not so simple.

"The living wage is the most difficult question to solve," Likins said.

The FLA has until August 2001 to institute an effective monitoring system, or the UA Human and Labor Rights Task Force will seek an alternative organization. SAS presented the WRC to the task force as an alternative last Monday.

While Likins remains confident that the FLA will meet all the requirements laid out by the resolution, he understands that this is too complicated of an issue to be sure.

Still, the problem of corporate involvement in monitoring factories hangs over this issue.

"The question that is haunting this long dialogue is: Can you work with the corporations, or are they unworthy of that trusting collaboration?" Likins said.

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