Currently, students on campus have no way of knowing whether the apparel they are wearing was manufactured in a sweatshop.

The Worker Rights Consortium is the premier independent monitoring organization that gathers information for socially responsible universities on the labor conditions under which apparel bearing university logos are produced.

Factories producing this apparel are routinely inspected by the WRC and are evaluated based on the conditions and standards set by the schools themselves.

This permits schools to pressure manufacturers to improve working conditions and contributes toward the promotion of a global labor environment whereby factories will have market incentives to offer their employees decent working conditions.

Unfortunately, UR refuses to affiliate with the WRC on the grounds that it does not profit off of the apparel sold in the bookstore and therefore does not have a social responsibility as a consumer to concern itself with manufacturing conditions.

During his first town hall meeting with students last semester, President Seligman challenged students in the No Sweat coalition – a group of students from different student groups dedicated to affiliating the university with the WRC – to find a “nexus” at the crossroads of social responsibility and economic interest in which the university could justify WRC affiliation.

Since no such nexus could be defined in the relationship of the university and the bookstore – the exclusive supplier of general university apparel – UR was not obligated to join the WRC.

However, what has not been addressed by the university is the existence of such an economic and social “nexus” at the level of university purchases of athletic apparel.

According to NCAA regulations, collegiate sports teams may not compete without appropriate uniforms for their athletes.

The fact that the University gains from its participation in NCAA athletics means that there is a clear interest in solid investment in quality athletic apparel. Usually universities buy apparel from large companies specializing in sportswear in order to supply and equip their teams. Although here sports teams do their own purchasing of apparel, funding from the university still plays a role.

Other peer institutions have mentioned their relationship with the athletic apparel industry in their decision to join the WRC.

For example, in 2000, Macalester College decided to affiliate with the WRC despite the lack of a licensing agreement with the university bookstore – a similar situation to our own.

Instead, the president at that time, Mike McPherson, cited the $50,000 dollars a year that Macalester spent on athletic apparel as a clear link between the university’s economic activity and their social obligations. Many other Division III univresities have followed suit, including American, Brandeis, Cornell, Duke and Wesleyan, as well as Hamilton, Ithaca and Smith College.

In an e-mail to No Sweat, UR’s Athletic Director George VanderZwaag confirmed that University budgetary resources are allocated to the purchase of athletic apparel for our sports teams. Companies such as Nike, Adidas, Speedo, etc., who are the suppliers of much of our sports apparel and equipment, have track records of employee abuse and sweatshop labor in poor countries. Affiliation with the WRC would disclose information directly relating to our specific purchases with these and other companies. Such information would permit the university to make informed choices as a consumer of such apparel.

This lies clearly within the field of our economic interests and social responsibility. When such a “nexus” is revealed, the University is morally obligated to act and join its peer institutions to become the 153rd school to affiliate with the WRC.

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