The College has approved a proposal to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent organization that monitors labor rights practices of factories that make university-related apparel. The College will have a dual affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium and Fair Labor Association, another labor-monitoring organization that Dartmouth joined in 2001.
The Dartmouth’s Worker Rights Consortium Committee a group of students and representatives from the President’s Offic that was formed last fall recommended that the College join the Worker Rights Consortium in a final report on Nov. 7, committee member Allison Puglisi ’15 said. Dartmouth has started its application process and will officially join the Worker Rights Consortium in the next few weeks, said the College’s general counsel Robert Donin, who heads the office responsible for responding to information from the Fair Labor Association and Worker Rights Consortium.
“The committee studied both organizations and compared the membership structure, the governance structure and the types of monitoring activities conducted by the two organizations and felt that the two organizations were sufficiently different in their approaches so that membership in the WRC would provide additional benefit to Dartmouth,” Donin said.
The consortium, founded in 2000 by Scott Nova ’87, is composed of over 175 university affiliates.
While the association’s membership includes manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, colleges and universities, the consortium consists of only higher education institutions.
The two organizations take different approaches to monitoring labor rights.
The association conducts proactive factory audits and walkthroughs, which are sometimes unannounced, while the consortium responds to specific grievances and complaints submitted by workers at the various factories, Donin said.
The association is a corporate collaboration, often funded by the corporations that they are monitoring, said Janet Kim ’13, another committee member.
“We saw that as a conflict of interest, especially if the monitoring is internal,” she said.
In contrast, the consortium serves a watchdog role outside of the industry, receiving funding from foundations, colleges and universities but not from the companies it monitors. The consortium was founded to address what Nova viewed as an incomplete approach to labor rights monitoring by the association.
In its research, the committee found that the organizations’ various approaches to monitoring to different reports and recommendations.
For example, the committee looked at a case study of the sudden closing of Jerzees de Honduras, a factory that produced athletic apparel for Russell Athletic, Puglisi said. Both the association and consortium investigated whether the factory’s closing was connected to workers’ efforts to join a union four days prior.
The organizations diverged in their investigation techniques and recommendations, Kim said.
The association outsourced its monitoring and reported that the factory’s closing was not connected in any way to the workers’ attempt to unionize and was instead due to a decrease in demand for the apparel. After its methodology was protested, the association completed a new report, which found that the factory had actually closed due to worker activity.
“That was after the WRC had already found this evidence, so the WRC played a pivotal role in pushing FLA,” Kim said.
Nariah Broadus, director of outreach and project development in the President’s Office and a committee member, said that the consortium and the association’s different approaches complement each other well.
Every other member of the Ivy League, with the exception of Yale University, is already affiliated with both the association and the consortium.
“We are literally in this bubble, and students have been fighting on other campuses for decades,” Kim said.
The College did not join the consortium before because administrators felt satisfied with the information provided by the association, Donin said.
“We felt that we were well-served by the FLA and I think the FLA has done an excellent job for us,” he said.
Joining the consortium in addition to the association has no drawbacks, he said.
Dartmouth has never ended contracts with any companies due to reports by the assocation.
“In every case where the FLA has taken action against a company, the company has engaged and corrected action,” Donin said.
Dartmouth’s general council controls the College’s response to information provided by labor rights organizations, Pugilisi said.
Kim said she hopes that the new information will influence the College’s decision-making.
The association and the consortium have the same dues formula, with annual membership dues equivalent to 1 percent of the College’s licensing revenues for licensed products.
Kim believes that the College’s decision to join the consortium is a victory that will set a strong precedent for labor rights.
“I hope this continues and fosters student activism on campus with students being invested in how to enact change on campus and how the College is operating,” she said.
Kim hopes Dartmouth will next take part in the designated suppliers program, a procurement standard proposed by the consortium that is already supported by 45 universities.
Higher education institutions’ promotion of labor rights in the apparel industry can serve as a role model for the industry at large,” Kim said.
“I think it’s important that even as we are in the green bubble that we continue to keep our eyes open to the fact that the world is a little bit bigger than Hanover and that our shirts come from somewhere,” Puglisi said.