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Designated Suppliers Program Can Fight Sweatshop Labor Practices

Cara Palmer |
January 17, 2012 | 9:17 p.m. PST

Senior Editor

(Ohio AFL-CIO Labor '08, Creative Commons)
(Ohio AFL-CIO Labor '08, Creative Commons)
In Dec. 2011 the Department of Justice made a decision that will further the fight against the use of sweatshop labor in the making of collegiate apparel. The department announced that “it will not challenge a proposal by the Worker Rights Consortium to implement the Designated Suppliers Program.”

The Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), according to the Worker Rights Consortium, which established the program, is a system “for protecting the rights of the workers who sew university logo apparel,” a system under which “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.” Meaning, it is a program for ensuring the enforcement of a university’s workplace code of conduct (a set of workplace standards).

Through the alliance with the DSP, universities can enforce those codes of conduct by holding licensees accountable to a set of requirements outlined by the DSP. They include “a requirement that licensees pay the factories with which they contract a sufficient amount that the factories can pay their employees a living wage.” In order for a factory to qualify as a “designated supplier,” several criteria must be met. They are the following:

1. “The factory must demonstrate compliance with internationally recognized labor standards as embodied in university codes of conduct.”

2. “The factory must demonstrate that it pays employees a living wage.”

3. “The factory must demonstrate respect for workers’ associational rights.”

Before the Justice Department’s decision in 2011 to allow the program to be implemented by those colleges and universities that choose to do so, those colleges and universities that had previously publically agreed to participate in the program were concerned that the program violated federal antitrust law “by creating a consortium that favored some factories or licensees over others,” according to The Chronicle.

Rather, the department concluded that “the factories at issue represented such a small part of the labor market that the program was unlikely to have an anticompetitive effect on them. And since agreeing to the program is optional…there was unlikely to be anticompetitive pressure on the colleges or their licensees.”

In fact, Acting Assistant Attorney General Pozen stated:

“The Designated Suppliers Program can be viewed as procompetitive in that it may facilitate competition in a new area, by providing assurances that apparel was produced under conditions meeting the Designated Suppliers Program standard.”

Now that the program has been officially “ok’d” by the Department of Justice, colleges and universities that have endorsed the DSP can rest assured that taking the particular action of signing on to the DSP in response to their desire to ensure that workers in factories supplying collegiate apparel are treated fairly, and those colleges and universities that have been considering signing on to the program perhaps will not be as hesitant to do so.

Currently, 45 universities have either endorsed or adopted the DSP. The University of Southern California (USC) was the 45th school to sign on to the DSP, after a years-long campaign by USC’s Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE). According to the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the national organization of which SCALE is a chapter, “USC signed on in May 2008, after four nation-wide sit-ins for the DSP resulting in the arrests of over 50 USAS activists. SCALE students organized their own sit-in in May 2007, and the USC administration threatened to revoke their scholarships, kick them out of campus housing, and suspend them.”

USC’s agreement to the program resulted in an exclamation of victory from USAS: “this is an amazing victory in the ongoing effort to get USC to respect the rights of garment workers who make Trojan apparel.”

The University proudly writes (in its History of Support for Social Responsibility) that in May of 2008, USC joined the DSP “in order to collaborate with other universities in addressing labor rights issues at the national level.”

Sometime before May of last year, USC signed a licensing deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

Several reports from the Worker Rights Consortium and USAS have unearthed information that one of the Cowboys’ supplier factories in Indonesia “withheld wages owed to 2,800 workers,” then the Cowboys lied about sourcing from that particular factory, and have now “failed to take any responsibility, leaving $1.8 million still owed to the workers.” At a different Cowboys supplier factory in El Salvador, “workers were paid the extreme sub-poverty wage of 8 cents an hour,” union supporters were threatened, drinking water was contaminated, and employees were illegally forced to work large amounts of overtime.

Those are only a few examples of the kinds of labor practices employed in only a few of the factories that supply clothing to the Dallas Cowboys, practices completely antagonistic to the principles of the DSP.

The DSP is a program implemented in four phases: after a grace period of 6 months, licensees have one year to achieve the goal of sourcing 25 percent of their collegiate apparel from DSP factories; after two years, the goal of 50 percent must be met, and after three years, 75 percent. According to the Worker Rights Consortium, implementation of the program has been stretched out over an extended period in order “to make the transition to the DSP less burdensome for all parties.”

Since the Dallas Cowboys are licensed to provide a great deal of USC apparel, it is ideal that since the university has signed on to this program, the Dallas Cowboys, and other of the university licensees, work toward improving the labor conditions in their supplier factories.

In order for the university to maintain its support of labor rights and the principles of the DSP, it is essential that it place pressure on licensees, such as the Dallas Cowboys, to ensure that in their supplier factories, the rights of workers are assured.

In an interview the co-president of SCALE, Julia Wang, explained what she hopes to see happen:

“We’re hoping that the university’s agreement with the Designated Suppliers Program will prompt the Dallas Cowboys to reconsider sourcing from supplier factories that apparently don't care enough about the rights of their workers to supply them with a living wage and allow them to unionize, and to work toward improving the lives of workers affected by those policies by either pressuring their supplier factories to change their policies, or to source from DSP-approved factories.”

Hopefully USC will support the Dallas Cowboys in that transition.


To get involved with SCALE at USC, contact them here.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.

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