The Students’ Association Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution sponsored by Students for Social Justice urging UR to affiliate with the Worker’s Rights Consortium.
“I support this resolution,” senior and SA Senator Alex Brody said. “It requires virtually nothing of the university and will not have an economic impact here – joining the WRC will just allow us to know more information.”
The Worker’s Rights Consortium is a non-profit organization with the primary mission of keeping affiliate colleges and universities informed about conditions in the factories producing the goods that bear their names and logos, according to their Web site.
As the decision whether or not to affiliate with the WRC will ultimately be made by the university, SSJ and the senate asked UR President Thomas Jackson for his reaction to an information packet prepared by SSJ and the resolution before the senate.
“To be sure, the question of the terms and conditions on which goods that we use are manufactured, often in third-world countries, is quintessentially appropriate for debate within the university by members of our community,” Jackson wrote in his response last year, which was reissued to senators this year. “But encouraging that debate is very different than the university itself taking a position on the appropriate ground rules for when those goods can be sold.
“Taking a public policy position on international labor standards and the best way to achieve better working conditions in other countries is not an appropriate task for a university … We cannot affiliate with the WRC while remaining neutral on the public policy position … Precisely because the appropriate resolution of the underlying issue is a matter of significant academic debate, the university must hesitate before making its own pronouncements in areas not directly related to the running of our institution that might seem to chill that campus discussion.”
“We live in a political society, and it is impossible to make a neutral decision,” junior, SA Senator and SSJ member David Ladon said. “Not taking a stand is taking a position against this by default. This is a straightforward decision of yes or no for the WRC’s information,” Ladon said.
The lone dissenter in the vote, senior and SA Senator Jack Voorhees said, “I disagree with the position that being aware of an issue then requires one to take a stance – but I am specifically concerned about the Code of Conduct that will essentially require us to impose our western values in places that we do not understand.”
Voorhees was referring to a section of the WRC’s evaluation protocol that would find a manufacturer to be in non-compliance if workers were paid the legal minimum wage but not the generally practiced local minimum wage should it be higher than the legal one.
Additionally, Jackson stated that Barnes & Noble, which runs UR’s bookstore, requires its suppliers to adhere to the policies of the Fair Labor Association which includes compliance with applicable local laws and has manufacturer information readily available on its Web site.
SSJ will next attempt to get the Faculty Senate to adopt a similar resolution in support of affiliation with the WRC.
According to SSJ, should UR ultimately join the WRC, UR will pay annual membership dues of $1,000. Additionally, a committee of students and staff will receive information on a quarterly basis about working conditions where the apparel sold in the bookstore is manufactured.
Should conditions that do not meet the WRC approved university code of conduct be found, the WRC makes recommendations and universities are to work with licensee corporations and take whatever actions it deems appropriate.
Over the course of the past year, SSJ has collected the signatures of approximately 800 students on a petition in support of joining the WRC. Over 25 SSJ members attended Monday night’s meeting to show their support of the resolution.
Last year SSJ brought a similar resolution before the Senate, however it was defeated.
The previous resolution took an inflammatory tone towards university administrators and stated objections to university policies outside of the scope of apparel whereas this year’s takes a more neutral tone.
There are currently 129 member colleges and universities in the WRC including area colleges such as Cornell University, Hamilton College and Syracuse University.
Keesing can be reached at