Event focuses on universities’ role in labor standards, human rights


The university will mark the 15th anniversary of the President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights with a symposium on the role universities play in facilitating social responsibility in global supply chains.

The one-day symposium will be Friday at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and will address the historical role universities have played in furthering this issue and current industry best practices and challenges, while querying the role of a university in creating safe and fair work conditions broadly around the globe.

The event will take place in the sixth-floor Colloquium, with opening remarks by President Mark Schlissel at 8:30 am. Michael Posner, former assistant secretary of state and co-director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, will present the keynote.

“The symposium is partly to celebrate the role universities have historically played in facilitating social responsibility in the licensed goods supply chains,” said Ravi Anupindi, chair of the advisory committee and faculty director of Supply Chain Management Program in the Ross School.

“Collectively, through thought leadership and leveraging commercial arrangements, we have influenced the licensees to uphold and honor labor standards and human rights in their supply chains. However, several challenges still remain.”

Anupindi said there is a need bring some collective thinking to understand the fundamental challenges and explore roles various stakeholders — brands, factories, retailers, universities, civil society and regulators — should play in building socially responsible supply chains.

“This symposium is also an attempt to start such a conversation and leverage the collective power of universities to catalyze thought leadership and action to progress towards more socially responsible supply chains,” he said.

The university began its involvement in improving the rights of workers operated by licensees in March 1999 when, addressing concerns of students and in response to a national initiative, former president Lee C. Bollinger issued an Anti-Sweatshop/Human Rights Code of Conduct.  The code’s provisions included ensuring compensation standards, humane limitations on required work hours, limitations on child labor, and a safe and healthy work environment.

U-M also participated in a task force with 13 other universities and the College Licensing Co. in drafting a licensee code of conduct to address these issues. 

A few months later, Bollinger formed a standing Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights.  The university also became a member of Fair Labor Association and the Workers Rights Consortium.

The 10-member advisory committee includes faculty, staff and students that are appointed by the president to provide advice concerning university policies and procedures to address labor issues in the production of apparel and other items sold with the U-M’s name, logos or other symbols.

Bollinger charged the committee to study and recommend actions in at least four key areas:

• Ensuring and monitoring compliance by licensees with U-M’s code of conduct.

• Creating full public disclosure of manufacturing sites by licensees.

• Identifying appropriate wage levels and compensation standards consistent with basic human rights and dignity.

• Protecting women’s rights.

“The university labor and human rights advisory committee provides a necessary space for students, faculty and administrators to engage in critical thinking about the role of the university, as a leading educational institution as well as a major buyer/consumer, in shaping global understanding of and action on international labor standards,” said Sioban Harlow, professor of epidemiology who chaired the committee for 10 years.

“The committee provides an important space for students’ concerns to be heard and developed into strategic action by the campus community,” she said.

“The advisory committee has played an influencing role on how peer universities think about their roles in ensuring labor standards and human rights in their supply chains,” Anupindi said.

“Going forward, I think the committee can play a more active role in building, through education and research, better awareness of challenges and opportunities in building social responsibility in global supply chains in general and the university’s role in it.”

More recent milestones included a resolution with U-M licensee Adidas in April 2013. Adidas agreed to pay PT Kizone factory workers in Indonesia additional aid. The factory owner had shut the factory and fled the country in 2011 without paying worker severance. 

In 2009, U-M announced it would not renew its licensing agreement with Russell Corp. after the advisory committee recommended the university end its association with the company for repeated freedom-of-association violations.

Russsel Athletic committed to rehire 1,200 previously dismissed workers in Honduras, provide them with financial assistance, open a new unionized factory in Honduras and take steps to respect workers rights at the company’s seven existing Honduran plants.

Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, praised the involvement of the university and its students and faculty in helping achieve this groundbreaking outcome.

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