A student group at the University of Pittsburgh has been successful in its effort to get the school’s administration to sign on to a program aimed at guaranteeing workers rights wherever official school apparel is manufactured.
“As soon as I found out for sure I jumped up and down for like a good two or three minutes,” said Joe Thomas, co-founder of the Pitt chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy.
The University of Pittsburgh was already a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which monitors apparel factories in other countries, but Thomas and his group felt that was not enough to ensure the working conditions in the factories where officially licensed Pitt merchandise is made, so they urged administrators to also join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).
“The FLA does not have what we would consider to be a fair funding structure,” Thomas said. “They get a lot of their funding from the corporations they are supposed to be monitoring, obviously anyone can see that presents a huge conflict of interest.”
Thomas said he was also concerned that the FLA inspections were not thorough and did not give workers a fair chance to speak their minds away from their managers.
The university originally resisted the request to join the WRC but apparently has made a change in its policy. Thomas, who is a senior working his way toward a double major of biology and political science, said he learned of the affiliation by looking at the WRC website, which now lists 180 schools that send one percent of their licensing fees to the consortium.
Pitt has not commented on the decision, and Thomas says he has a meeting scheduled with administrators next week.
Thomas said the members of his group decided to pursue the affiliation with the WRC because they felt it was one place where they could “use our power … as students to actually improve labor standards worldwide.”
Thomas does not think the new agreement will lead to higher prices for items with the panther logo. He says there is no evidence that prices have increased at any of the other schools that are part of the WRC.