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Friday October 27, 2000

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WRC rep advises Likins to withdraw from FLA

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Richard Appelbaum of the University of California at Santa Barbara speaks in front of a crowd of about 40 people at the UA Law School last night. Appelbaum addressed issues that pertain to the Worker Rights Consortium and encouraged the UA to withdraw from the Fair Labor Association.

By Shana Heiser

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Empowering workers is the way to end sweatshop labor, Appelbaum says

The Fair Labor Association won't die if the UA withdraws, and the university's withdrawal could encourage the FLA to "rethink its policies," said Richard Appelbaum, Worker Rights Consortium advisory council member.

In his speech to about 40 people at the James E. Rogers College of Law last night, Appelbaum, a sociology professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, presented the WRC's side of monitoring sweatshops and protecting factory workers.

"The only way for workers to secure decent and humane working conditions is to be empowered on their own behalf," Appelbaum said. "The FLA was never set up to protect workers' rights."

The WRC's plan of action is to force information from factories, verify workers' complaints in tandem with local groups and spot check areas with repeated violations and weak infrastructures, he said.

Licensees will be obligated to work with factories that fall short of standards. There will be "no cut and run," Appelbaum said.

This news comes as a reassurance to University of Arizona President Peter Likins, who said he is glad he and Appelbaum are "aligned in that objective."

"The fear of many of us had been that the ultimate objective will be to abandon those factories," Likins said. "We should assist factories in meeting standards."

Students Against Sweatshops went over the cut-and-run issue with Likins many times earlier this year, SAS spokeswoman Rachel Wilson said. She said she questions what Likins thought about the speech.

"I wonder how seriously Peter Likins was taking it because he was clipping his fingernails during the talk," Wilson said.

Appelbaum encouraged UA students to take action against sweatshops and change the workers' wage received from the $55 billion imported to the United States yearly.

"Consumers can have a voice, particularly at the collegiate level," he said.

In Bangladesh, workers earn the equivalent of one cent; in China, 23 cents; in El Salvador, 59 cents. With the absence of unions, the laws that do exist are not enforced, Appelbaum said.

The chief executive officer of Guess? clothing unofficially told Appelbaum why he moved his factories to Mexico - so they could "work without outside scrutiny"- before Guess's lawyer interrupted the CEO, Appelbaum said.

To create a "safe haven" for workers to complain about their conditions, advocates have had to invite workers off-site, sometimes during undercover meetings and at night, Appelbaum said.

WRC's efforts have influenced the FLA, Appelbaum said.

"The WRC has pushed the FLA in a good direction, but there are problems," he said.

The year-old WRC held its first board meeting only three weeks ago, and there are now 62 university and college members nationwide. In comparison, the FLA began in 1996 and 147 schools are members.

Yesterday, the WRC adopted a tax code and selected an executive director who has not yet been announced, but he is a "senior person with many years of experience," Appelbaum said.

"Many universities were skeptical, but it went quite well," he said.

As the FLA continues to certify companies as sweat free, the WRC refuses to do this, instead making violations public and continuing proactive investigations, Appelbaum said.

"It is impossible to monitor what goes on in factories with any certainty," he said.