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Adopt a code of conduct for apparel

Letter to the Editor | Sunday, September 16, 2007

On March 6, 2001, then-University President Edward Malloy signed the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), allowing Notre Dame to join more than 100 schools that were a part of the process to make a positive statement against sweatshops that made its T-shirts and other articles of clothing. Because of Notre Dame’s powerful influence in the collegiate apparel industry, the signing of the contract was considered a huge success for the WRC.However, the gains the WRC bring are under constant threat due to the destructive pressures of the apparel industry, and the majority of college apparel continues to be made in factories that violate workers’ rights. A large percentage of the factories have, in fact, closed down because making change factory-by-factory makes the improved factory uncompetitive unless there is an incentive outside the system of competition. A factory that is paying better wages and implementing reforms in order to comply with codes has higher operating costs and is less competitive based solely on price.To ensure that the principles behind the codes of conduct become a reality, an additional program was created in order to subject all companies that produce collegiate apparel to the same higher standard. Last year, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) launched a new national campaign to get college apparel to be produced in a set of sweat-free designated factories. Under the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), university licensees are required to source most university logo apparel from supplier factories that have been determined by universities, through independent verification, to be in compliance with their obligation to respect the rights of their employees – including the right to organize and bargain collectively and the right to be paid a living wage.While it is true that the collegiate sector is only a small portion of the global apparel industry, colleges and universities have the freedom to influence the apparel market. If Notre Dame joins the DSP, it will become a model for other apparel sectors as well as for other colleges and universities across the country. While it cannot be assured that the DSP will solve the sweatshop problem even in the collegiate sector, it surely is a better answer than other policies being proposed elsewhere. So, in 2001, Notre Dame decided that it would actively oppose the exploitation of workers in other countries. Notre Dame also decided to take a stance on where its apparel would be made, and decided that it would live up to the Catholic standards of ethical and moral practices. Why not take the next step to ensure that the expectations are truly being met?

Ashley WilliamsjuniorMcGlinn HallSept