Steps to Stop Sweatshops

January 31, 2002

 

Duke has joined the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and is delaying the renewal of its contract with New Era Cap Company, the latest steps in Duke's continuing effort to promote safe working conditions and fair labor practices for apparel workers.

The WRC is a nonprofit organization that keeps affiliated colleges and universities informed about conditions in the factories that produce goods bearing their names and logos. Duke's membership will complement its existing membership in the Fair Labor Association (FLA), another national organization that assists campuses in monitoring the labor practices of manufacturers. More than a hundred colleges and universities belong to one or both of the organizations.

Duke previously had declined to join the WRC. In explaining the change in a November letter to the organization, President Keohane said she was "greatly heartened to know that you see the Worker Rights Consortium as complementary in its efforts and strategy to the Fair Labor Association at this stage of its development. As you know, one of the impediments to Duke's considering joining the WRC has been our founding support for the FLA and our hopes that it can continue to evolve." In joining the WRC, Keohane said, "we will do our best to provide the kind of leadership that Duke has given in this area across the years."

In a related action, Keohane notified New Era Cap Company that Duke would postpone the renewal of its license with the company until New Era provides independent verification of its labor practices. In a letter to the Derby, New York, company, Keohane said Duke had "received information from Duke students, among others, citing complaints from New Era factory workers who have alleged that unsafe conditions and discrimination have been continuing concerns at New Era." The company produces hats for Duke.

In her letter, Keohane noted that New Era had defended its labor practices and commitment to its employees, but said Duke considered it a "guiding principle" that allegations be assessed by independent monitors. In 1997, Duke was the first university in the country to adopt a code of conduct that required licensees to agree to independent monitoring of factory working conditions.

The two decisions follow a series of discussions on campus involving several members of Students Against Sweatshops, administrators, and others. Says Keohane, "We all share a desire to help protect the workers who produce apparel with our university's name and logo. Duke will continue to insist on independent monitoring of conditions in their factories." She says James Wilkerson, director of licensing at the university, has been an "active leader on this--not only at Duke but nationally--from the beginning."

Jonathan Harris '02, a member of Duke Students Against Sweatshops, says the group "applauds the administration for taking a true stand for workers' rights by signing onto the WRC. We hope the administration will stay active on this issue by becoming a leading participant in the WRC."

Additional information about the WRC is available at www.workersrights.org and the Fair Labor Association at www.fairlabor.org.