Duke signs new apparel policy

University officials agreed Monday that all clothing bearing Duke logos will be produced in factories that provide a livable wage and a legitimate representative employee body.

Under the new rules, the number of manufacturers of Duke logo apparel will be slashed by 25 percent, making monitoring simpler, and agreements will be made directly between the University and factories. Previously, agreements were made with licensees.

The agreement was negotiated by members of Duke's chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, John Burness, senior vice president for public and government relations, and Jim Wilkerson, director of trademark licensing and stores operations. Trask signed the agreement.

"We agree with the students that this is an important global issue and represents the latest instance in which Duke has provided leadership in the international anti-sweatshop movement," Trask said in a statement.

Members of the student advocacy group said they were very pleased with the new policy Monday night.

"We were really happy that Duke reaffirmed their commitment to the issue," said Lillie Ris, a senior and member of SAS. "We saw it as a victory, and we're pleased that Duke is a leader on the issue again."

In addition to the living wage provision and representation requirements, the agreement mandates that any factory producing Duke logo apparel must devote at least two-thirds of its manufacturing to the university logo goods market and be in full compliance of major international labor agreements.

Wilkerson said the agreement is the strongest he has seen from any university and that it will have a powerful effect on workers making Duke products.

"We have learned over the years that it's just not economically or practically feasible to monitor the factories to the degree that we find necessary," Wilkerson said. "This will enable us to create more stable working situations for workers."

Currently there are about 4,000 factories worldwide that manufacture Duke-licensed clothing. The agreement will reduce that amount to around 3,000.

Burness said Duke was the first university to set standards for apparel manufacturers, having agreed to a code of conduct in 1999 with SAS.

The new agreement will be monitored by the Worker Rights Consortium, a non-profit organization composed of universities, student activist groups and labor rights advocates that help monitor the codes of conduct schools use to govern labor rights. Duke has been a member since 1999 and Wilkerson is chair of its board.

SAS representatives sent a letter about the issue to President Richard Brodhead in Fall 2005. The group began meetings with administrators in December, culminating in Monday's signing. Mary Grant, a junior and member of SAS, said the University had two initial objections related to wording.

Because the University does not officially have a living wage policy, Grant said Burness had reservations about the wage clause.

She also said Trask was uncomfortable with language concerning worker representation which specifically mentioned unions. The final agreement omits any specific mention of unions.

"I think that it was part of a reluctance on the University's part to support all-out collective bargaining," Ris said of the change. "But we're satisfied because it will leave space for unions and fulfills part of our mission."

Wilkerson said the new rules should reduce a practice known in the clothing industry as "flight to the bottom," when licensees work with a given factory for only one season before moving on to find a lower price. Because prices are so low, manufacturers cannot afford to create positive conditions in the workplace.

After the University became a WRC member in 2001, contracts with licensees were renegotiated to fit the new protocols. Wilkerson said he hopes the new agreement will not require lengthy renegotiations.

"I applaud Duke's senior administration for its good and principled decision on these matters and am very proud of the Duke Students Against Sweatshops for their dedication and efforts," Wilkerson wrote in an e-mail Monday. "This proposal by the students is an idea whose time has certainly come."


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