O’Donovan Accepts LIC Plan, Joins Workers’ Rights Consortium

By Anne Rittman Hoya Staff Writer

University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., announced yesterday that Georgetown University will withdraw from the Fair Labor Association and join the Workers’ Rights Consortium following a recommendation from the Licensing Implementation Committee. The decision caps a lengthy campaign led by the Georgetown Solidarity Committee to pull out of the FLA.

O’Donovan announced his decision Monday morning at a meeting with the LIC. Despite a split vote by the LIC concerning the decision to leave the FLA, O’Donovan decreed “the best way to advance the university’s interests at this time is for Georgetown to leave the FLA. It has not met our expectations. In the future, should we find that it has been able to develop into the kind of organization that effectively addresses these issues, we might decide to re-join the FLA.”

The FLA is an organization founded by the apparel industry and human rights groups and is supported by the White House. O’Donovan left the option of rejoining the FLA open, declaring the university will remain in contact with the association.

In addition to terminating present affiliation with the FLA, O’Donovan also agreed to join the WRC conditionally for a test period of six to 12 months. O’Donovan said that during this time, “We will scrutinize its progress in the same manner in which we scrutinized the FLA during its initial year of development.” After the end of the trial period, further participation in the WRC will depend on “an analysis of [the WRC’s] ability to meet the criteria spelled out in the LIC report,” O’Donovan said. “[We are joining with] the expectation that they be held to standards … they are a forming organization too.”

The WRC is a non-profit organization that supports and verifies licensee compliance with codes of conduct developed by colleges and universities to ensure goods are produced under conditions respectful to the basic rights of workers.

O’Donovan also expressed hesitancy at the dearth of corporations involved in the WRC. Responding to claims that the FLA responded too readily to corporations involved within the WRC, O’Donovan said, “I don’t think we will be effective without [involvement from] businesses.”

“We are extremely pleased with O’Donovan’s decision this morning,” said Michael Levinson (SFS ’02), a member of the LIC. “It was great to see the university take that extra step. They decided to take a leap into a situation that is uncertain. The decision was unexpected, but very welcome.”

Solidarity member Vanessa Waldref agreed, “We were a little surprised … we were hoping very much [Georgetown would take this step]. [O’Donovan] chose what we thought was the right thing. It’s a great step for Georgetown to make a commitment to justice for workers and student voices.”

Meeting a desire of the GSC, O’Donovan agreed to send a representative from the university to the WRC’s founding conference to be held in New York City on April 7 to 9. The representative “needs to be someone directly involved,” said Levinson, adding, “It would be amazing if we could get students, faculty and staff [to attend].”

After the meeting, O’Donovan addressed the crowd of approximately 20 students, including GUSA President-elect Tawan Davis and Vice-President-elect Jacques Arsenault. After telling the congregation his decision, O’Donovan said, “From the beginning, I thought that [sweatshop labor] was a wonderful issue for students to be concerned about … it has been a concern for me for years.”

The LIC’s charter expires May 1, and will be replaced by a smaller task force to be created by O’Donovan in the months ahead.

The results of the meeting will be celebrated today at noon in Red Square, where the GSC has planned a rally. Instead of protesting, the rally will congratulate the Georgetown administration for its decision. Supportive student groups such as the NAACP, the Asian-American Student Association and GUSA will be joined by off-campus groups and labor unions to show support.

“This issue has a lot of follow-up,” said Levinson. “We’re not done. Sweatshops have not gone away. The university must continue to be proactive … it must make decisions on how we punish and reward licensees. Solidarity will keep the sweatshop issue, but [will add to it].” The GSC is planning to participate in the D.C. rally focusing on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on April 16 and 17. According to Levinson, “[The rally] will be similar to Seattle. We expect no less than 40,000 people.” The D.C. protests were organized by many of the same activists who participated in the widespread Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization on Nov. 30, 1999.

The GSC is also contemplating trying to introduce a “Living Wage” program for Georgetown staff. This program, according to Levinson, would mirror similar programs at other Jesuit universities. The program would use the changing cost of living in the district to calculate wage increases for Georgetown employees.

Waldref said that the GSC is also looking to work for the unionization of Marriott workers. She said that this cause led to the founding of theGSC five years ago.

O’Donovan’s choice to leave the FLA allows the university to join the ranks of other schools who have chosen to pursue other options of manufacturing, such as the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Related Links

 Solidarity Committee Delivers Ultimatum (March 24, 2000)

 365 Days Later, Revisiting 85 Hours (Feb. 8, 2000)

 Sweatshop Battle Working Overtime (Feb. 8, 2000)

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