Campus & Community

Universities release manufacturing report

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Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University, the University of California, and the University of Michigan today are releasing the report of a team of independent consultants commissioned by the universities last year to gather and analyze information on apparel manufacturing.

The report is the result of a yearlong effort that included compiling and analyzing information about working conditions in the apparel industry in seven countries.

The consultants observed working conditions in a sampling of factories in countries that represent a substantial portion of the university-licensed apparel business and surveyed efforts by government, business, labor, and independent organizations to improve working conditions.

Based on meetings with participants in the university-licensed apparel industry, factory visits, and surveys, the consultants found:

_ Subpar working conditions exist in apparel factories in all of the countries visited, as reported by stakeholders and confirmed by factory visits;

_ The diffuse nature of apparel production hinders enforcement of labor standards;

_ Awareness of codes of conduct and monitoring efforts is currently insufficient to promote effective compliance;

_ Many trade unions and some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are skeptical about the efficacy of monitoring;

_ The proliferation of codes of conduct and the resulting duplication of monitoring efforts does not support greater compliance;

_ It is particularly challenging to gather information from workers about the conditions in factories.

The report also identified issues of concern, focusing on compliance with wage and hour, and health and safety regulations; limitations of freedom of association and collective bargaining; employment discrimination, and related issues. The consultant team also discussed good practices that it had identified, local conditions hindering compliance with good working conditions, and opportunities for universities to contribute to the improvement of conditions.

The report was prepared by the consultant team of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Education Fund of San Francisco; the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) of Washington, D.C.; and Assistant Professor Dara O’Rourke of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Termed the “Independent University Initiative” because it is unaffiliated with any other inquiry, the initiative began in summer 1999. Its costs were underwritten by the five participating universities.

The consultants visited factories that manufacture licensed apparel in Mexico, China/Hong Kong, El Salvador, Thailand, Pakistan, Korea, and the United States. They interviewed representatives of 24 nongovernmental organizations, 15 companies or business associations, 22 public officials or international organizations, 12 trade unions, and nine researchers, academics, and attorneys. Thirteen factories were also visited and monitoring reports prepared. The consultants also reviewed other anti-sweatshop initiatives, including independent monitoring projects.

In releasing the report for public discussion, the universities emphasized that the information gathered was intended for assessment purposes only and was not conceived or carried out as a project to monitor particular factories. Information gathered from the monitoring of selected factories was not tied to particular factories or licensees, but rather was presented as a means of evaluating compliance issues specific to each country, and of demonstrating the role of monitoring as part of an overall compliance strategy. One of the report’s conclusions is that gathering complete and reliable information about working conditions in factories making licensed apparel is a difficult process.

Information on workplace conditions was gathered in factories by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was accompanied in half of its visits by representatives of BSR, IRRC, and/or Assistant Professor O’Rourke.

The report is intended to inform discussion of these important issues at universities across the country. The report is available online at”edu/specials/”ap”parelreport.