Brown University Memorandum
Date: April 4, 2000
To: President Sheila Blumstein
Enclosed is the committee’s report. As you know, there are differences of opinion within the committee. Can Brown University be more effective by continuing its membership in the Fair Labor Association or can Brown exercise more influence by withdrawing its membership until the FLA has met Brown’s conditions for reform? Committee meeting discussion focused more on Brown’s engagement with the FLA than with our participation in the Worker Rights Consortium. There was discussion whether a decision by Brown to withdraw from the FLA should also lead Brown to disengage from the WRC due to uncertainty and concerns about the WRC leadership’s goals.
As you suggested, the committee focused on the pros and cons to Brown’s FLA affiliation. David Moore, assisted by Nicholas Reville, prepared a four-point critique of the FLA and reasons for Brown to withdraw from the FLA. Larry Carr responded to this critique with argument that contends the FLA monitoring process will have procedures and management authority needed to mitigate the concern for potential conflict of interest. He offered reasons to stay in the FLA. Yolanda Lamboy supported continuing in the FLA while also developing benchmarks, which Brown with other Universities should use to improve the FLA. Luc Morris favored Brown’s continued FLA affiliation. Luc indicated that it would not make sense for Brown to depart the FLA and stay a member of WRC.
Russell Carey assisted the committee by suggesting the following:
Whether or not Brown University remains a member of the Fair Labor Association, the institution needs a clearly articulated strategy for voicing its positions regarding sweatshop labor. In recognition of this need, the committee agreed on the following recommendations:
The anti-sweatshop labor movement has been placed on the national agenda by students, many of them from Brown. The goals of the movement are widely lauded and supported by college and university administrations, however, at many institutions students and administrators have become divided and antagonistic. When that has occurred the goals of the movement have become subsumed to politics, tactics, and entrenched positions that are remote from the important issues of sweatshop labor. Brown should not allow that to occur on its campus. We have a tradition of collaboration and participation among students, staff and faculty that is unmatched by other institutions. At this critical stage, it is paramount that members of the Brown community recommit themselves to working together to realizing our jointly held objectives.
The committee respectfully submits to you its report and looks forward to continuing its advisory role to the President.
Code of Conduct Advisory Committee Report to President Blumstein
Four Point Critique of the Fair Labor Association
Companies submit a list of factories to be monitored. (FLA Charter, Part VII.C, Para.2)
Each company will provide the FLA with a list of factories that will be eligible for monitoring. Corporations are supposed to rank factories to include the ones with repeated violations, highest risk of non-compliance, and size of the factory. While the Executive Director has the power to alter the list, it must be done in consultation with the company and the agreement states that “there shall be a general presumption in favor of the Participating Company’s suggested list.” There is a risk of companies recommending only their best factories. In addition, companies will know which sites will be monitored ahead of time and may work to address violations only in those factories.
Companies submit a list of factories to be monitored based on criteria of factory size and risk factors which have been established by the FLA Executive Director. After review, as needed, the Executive Director can require changes to the company-supplied factory list. The Executive Director, as needed, can also select factories for “unannounced” inspection. Through feedback supplied by workers, local NGO’s, and other third parties, a prioritized list of factories to be monitored will be developed by region and company based on volumes and known risk factors.
As FLA factory monitoring is being introduced and implemented, it is expected that the development of an effective external NGO trainers’, workers’ and other third party communications network will help to ensure an effective factory selection process. University support for external NGO training and the study of licensees’ factories conditions, and the development of FLA plus licensee guidelines, plus potential University support for other monitoring and educational programs like the new WRC program, will help to ensure that corporate participation is helpful, not harmful, to the FLA’ s factory selection process.
Companies choose and contract directly with their own monitors. (FLA Charter Part VII.C, Para. 1)
Companies being monitored in the FLA process choose their monitoring organizations from the list of accredited monitors and contract directly with them. Companies may be more likely to choose monitors whom they believe will be less stringent. Furthermore, the direct financial relationship between the companies being monitored and the monitors creates a potential disincentive for monitors to report violations. Monitors are responsible to companies under this structure and cannot be considered “independent.”
Companies are responsible for ensuring that 100% of their factories achieve compliance with FLA standards. Company hiring of monitors from the FLA’s approved list is an important part of ensuring effective communication, cooperation and assistance between the FLA, the companies and the monitors for the global implementation and development of an effective monitoring program in a predominantly subcontracted production network. Developing effective working relations, communications and confidence between the monitors, the companies and the FLA staff is a critical part of the process. Company participation and support for the monitoring process will be of enormous assistance to the FLA and the external monitors for the scheduling and the inspection of factories.
Universities by participating in the FLA, and by working closely with NGO affiliates, have the ability to require their licensees to use NGO monitors as part of their compliance program. UAC members can develop a list of preferred external monitors and act as one to require collegiate licensees to use trained and approved external NGO monitors. The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) NGO training program which has received significant University financial support and also assistance from a few major collegiate apparel manufacturers is a good example of how Universities and companies can both help to ensure the development of an effective NGO monitoring network.
Weak third-party complaint procedure. (FLA Charter, Part X)
The FLA’s third-party complaint procedure is extremely flawed, which is especially dangerous considering that only 5-15% of factories will be monitored annually.
Workplace conditions in the apparel industry can change very quickly. Forty-five days is too long to wait before appointing a financially independent monitor to investigate a complaint.
The Executive Director will be held responsible for the correctly determining the credibility of third party complaints and for ensuring the due process of the complaint procedure. Such accountability and responsibility for a fair review process rests appropriately with the FLA’s senior executive. In order to avoid misuse of limited monitoring resources, or potentially harming progress made when revisiting issues previously remedied, it makes good sense for the Executive Director to consult earlier reports to help determine if a complaint is still valid. If a complaint appears to have validity it is necessary and appropriate to inform the company and monitor of the problem and to request a review and response to the complaint. The company and contracted monitor will have the necessary familiarity with the factory, its management and its workers to best assess the situation and to mediate an effective problem resolution. The 45-day response period is a maximum, not an average, response time. The Executive Director, as needed, will communicate an expected time for response. If not satisfied, the Executive Director can use a second independent monitor. Given monitoring resource limitations, such action will be taken only where a standard review process is clearly inadequate.
Lack of Transparency.
The FLA does not require companies to publicly disclose the locations of their apparel factories. Third parties, which have the right to file complaints under the FLA system, must be given factory addresses in order to be able to perform this function. Public disclosure is also a major disincentive for companies to “cut and run” from a factory if abuses are found.
The FLA also does not provide adequate or timely information from monitoring visits. A single, yearly, summary report is the only public information provided about company compliance. Furthermore, this report is given to companies to review before it is released.
For a recent evaluation of the importance of disclosure, please see the report by the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee in the appendix (a comparison of disclosed and undisclosed Nike factories in China).
Due to apparel brand competition in the fashion industry and concern about “knock off” or “pirate” fashion designs, the transparency goal remains a significant hurdle with non-collegiate fashion apparel. Factory transparency is a worthwhile goal. Achieving this goal will take time in order to develop the needed support of the designer brand companies. Public concern, including strong general consumer support for this goal, is needed to bring about full transparency in the apparel industry. The disclosure of factories by University licensees increases the level of transparency and helps to establish factory disclosure, as a worthwhile standard needed to assure consumer confidence.
The Executive Director and FLA staff will possess full factory location information. The FLA, NGO’s, workers, universities and other third parties will help ensure that companies will not “cut and run” from factories where problems are found. The FLA working cooperatively through thecompany and the contracted monitor to make improvements in working conditions, to eliminate abuses and prevent reoccurrence, will reduce the need for companies to “cut and run”. The FLA’s and external monitors focus will be on gaining company cooperation and improvement. The inclusion of the company and monitor in the report and resolution process, as opposed to the frequent public releases of sensitive problem and complaint information, is needed to ensure constructive progress vs. defensive company reactions and the resulting increased potential for problem cover-ups.
Companies, monitors and the FLA staff need to develop trust and be able to work together in confidence towards the elimination of problems currently existing in subcontracted production facilities. Summary public reporting strikes a balance between public “need to know” and the potentially harmful release of sensitive information. A credible FLA organization and NGO-monitoring network, combined with corporate concern, will be able to facilitate change while protecting workers from employer retribution. Such a program can help offset student and general public concern about the potential for corporate “cover-ups” and the potential for the continuation of worker abuses.
Conclusion (D. Moore and N. Reville):
Given the problems with the FLA monitoring system outlined above, it is extremely dangerous to label garments as “Produced in compliance with FLA protocol” based on the annual inspection by a directly contracted monitor of 5-15% of company selected factories. These tags will serve as a stamp of approval for inadequately monitored factory conditions and may undermine workers’ ability to press for improvements in conditions.
All of the flaws above are institutionalized in the FLA charter. The monitoring program may only be amended by a supermajority vote of the FLA Board of Directors, which requires the approval of 4 out of the 6 company board members (FLA Charter, Part II.D #1, 2, 7, 8, 9). This is a major impediment to the ability to reform the FLA.
Reasons for Brown to withdraw from the FLA:
The current FLA system is not adequate to provide information to enforce Brown’s Code of Conduct. The standards of the FLA are weak and the monitoring mechanism is critically flawed. Brown should not accept inadequate monitoring.
Brown identified problems with FLA monitoring over a year ago and has insisted that the FLA improve for Brown to remain a member. None of the problems Brown identified have been addressed since then, despite active attempts by students on several occasions.
Brown does not lose anything by withdrawing from the FLA:
Other schools have recently withdrawn from the FLA, but have not clearly explained their reasons for doing so. By publicly announcing that Brown is withdrawing in response to specific systematic weaknesses, Brown’s action would stand out. It would send a more productive message of reform and establish a clear message that other schools could unite around to press for reform together.
Remaining in the FLA weakens Brown’s credibility not just on this issue but also more generally.
What Brown should do following a withdrawal from the FLA:
Other Conclusion (L. Carr):
The FLA should avoid a “tag” endorsement of company brands until there are reasonable levels of surety regarding the improvements made in factory and worker conditions where these brands are produced. The committee acknowledges legitimate concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest as discussed in David Moore’s and Nicholas Reville’s four point FLA critique.
The FLA’s corporate board and company members have made a significant business decision and a public commitment to a long-term process designed to correct and improve factory conditions and worker’s lives. At some point an FLA label may provide consumers with needed information that the apparel brand they are considering for purchase was produced in a fair work environment. However, the committee agrees with David’s and Nick’s conclusion that a seal of brand approval by the FLA is misleading and could be dangerous if there is not reasonable surety that the apparel has been produced in factories with satisfactory working conditions.
I am not convinced that the FLA’s “flaws” are institutionalized, or that the supermajority vote requirement will impede the FLA’s capability for reform when needed. In the long run the FLA process of negotiated compromise and developed consensus should make for a stronger, more effective organization. Perceived FLA “flaws” clearly are subordinate to the larger need and requirement to enlist significant corporate support for the implementation an effective global external monitoring compliance program.
Workers, university, other third party and NGO participation combined with effective FLA executive leadership will help to assure that companies are held accountable. University participation in the FLA monitoring program will improve its effectiveness so that in the years ahead transparency can be gained and substantial progress will be made throughout the apparel industry. Incremental change and company involvement is needed to bring about lasting global changes, which will improve working conditions and worker’s lives.
Reasons for Brown to stay in the FLA:
Brown’s participation and public engagement in both the FLA and the new WRC organization is important. Brown would lose influence and significant credibility by withdrawing from the FLA. Some would view this as a “cut in run” response by Brown in the face of student pressure. This would lessen Brown’s leadership role and the voice currently gained by its support for University participation in both the FLA and the WRC.
The FLA has over 130 member schools, however it needs 1000’s for University influences to be most effective. Brown’s withdrawal would not cripple the FLA; however, leaving the FLA would hinder Brown’s ability to be involved in the development of an effective University Advisory Council (UAC) and FLA monitoring program. Furthermore, it would send a message to other colleges and universities considering the FLA that it is acceptable not to engage in the attempt to resolve the larger apparel industry problem. By leaving the FLA, Brown would signal to its licensees and to others, considering FLA involvement and corrective industry action, that the FLA won’t work, its ok to take a “wait and see approach”, its ok to focus narrowly on the production of University licensed products.
Brown would also lose substantial capability for direct discussion and information exchange with the members and leadership of the UAC, the FLA’s management, external NGO’s and the FLA board. Waiting to see if the FLA improves, or that FLA monitoring has shown itself to be sufficiently effective to enforce the Code, will hurt Brown’s credibility and reduce the effectiveness of its voice towards improving the FLA and its monitoring program.
Many members of the Brown community are hopeful that the FLA can address the problems that have been identified or that arise in the implementation of the FLA monitoring program. To most effectively use Brown’s voice to advocate for improvement, Brown must participate in the FLA. It must measure and articulate weaknesses and the need for reform in a helpful manner, recognizing the need to build support and consensus from other FLA members. This is not easy, and it will take time. However, this approach is critical to Brown’s success in the achievement of its goals for the Brown Code of Conduct and the larger apparel industry’s improvement of factory conditions and worker’s lives. It is agreed that Brown’s leadership on the sweatshop issue relies primarily on our voice as a premier academic institution; a decision to leave the FLA would weaken its credibility and its ability to use that voice towards achieving industry-wide improvements.
Brown’s voice within the University Advisory Council (UAC) includes a University seat on the FLA board, and direct communication with FLA management, NGO and company leadership. Brown should use its voice, not to issue ultimatums to the FLA, but to lobby and build support for effective monitoring practices, fair wages, benchmarks and external communication. Such action will be taken more seriously than ultimatums. Brown can most effectively utilize its voice by participating in the FLA. That Brown continues in the FLA acknowledges that change takes time and that Brown advocates support for an industry-wide program which includes company participation. Brown refuses to act to undercut the FLA or Brown’s capability to work for industry-wide change. Brown is voicing a long-term commitment to industry change.
Brown’s action by staying in the FLA stands out and encourages others to be involved and to press for change and improvement. Our continued involvement can help send a constructive message that other schools should unite around effective University code standards and press for reform together. Remaining in the FLA strengthens Brown’s credibility, not just in terms of its influence on the FLA, but more generally that university participation in both the FLA and the WRC is acceptable and worthwhile.
Everyone involved in the FLA has a large and very public stake in the outcome and credibility of the FLA program. The Executive Director, staff and FLA affiliates will fall short in its tasks if required to maintain a primary focus on public relations. The FLA program and job at hand are large and difficult in their scope. The program tackles significant, sensitive and widespread long-term problems. The identification and resolution of these problems, not the continuous detailed public explanation of these complex problems, is where our attention and responsibility belongs. Brown can help the FLA leadership to do its job by providing a voice supporting a shift in the FLA’s staff focus towards the daily implementation of its monitoring program and the development of effective benchmarks for internal assessment and external communication.
As an FLA member, Brown will have a role in the development of the apparel industry’s production-monitoring program. The FLA offers resources and a global scope far beyond that of a University licensee focused monitoring program. University FLA membership can help ensure that the Executive Director and FLA staff will receive support needed to begin implementation of the FLA’s monitoring program in 2000. The implementation of such a program is a huge undertaking and a tremendous challenge. University cooperation and support is needed at this time. Continued criticism about flaws in the FLA charter and corporate participation is not helpful to this effort.
Reasons for Brown to support the WRC:
Brown’s WRC participation can be complementary to its participation in the FLA. Membership in the WRC, however, should not hinder the development and the implementation of the FLA’s monitoring program.
Brown should use its influence to change the focus of the WRC (SLA and USAS) away from continued attacks on University participation in the FLA. The SLA, USAS and other supporters of the WRC should focus their time and resources on the WRC’s program development. Just as Nike attacks on the WRC damages its credibility, so do student demands that hinders University participation in the FLA damage student activist’s credibility and some of the motives behind the student sweatshop initiative. This is an important point, because it will lead many to suspect the motives behind the WRC and will damage the WRC’s potential for effectiveness.
Continued attacks on the FLA are destructive and damaging to the larger effort to improve factory conditions. Students should continue to provide leadership and use their voice to develop awareness and timely response to many valid concerns such as potential conflicts of interest or other impediments to industry reform. The WRC can be of great value by further monitoring, educating and developing local worker and NGO awareness and communications to help to identify problems and opportunities for continued improvements. If the WRC can function as an alternative University monitoring and workers’ rights educational program, and if Brown is allowed to support both the FLA and the WRC, then Brown should do so.