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UTR Labor Proposal Approved

By Kevin R. Lang


The Academic Council last Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal by members of United Trauma Relief requesting that MIT join the Fair Labor Association and the Workers’ Rights Consortium.

Sanjay Basu ’02, Matthew V. Brooks ’05, Julia R. de Kadt ’02, and Stephanie W. Wang ’04 worked with Kirk D. Kolenbrander, special assistant to the president and chancellor, to draft the proposal which was presented to Vest on April 26. The council voted to approve the measure at its May 28 meeting.

The proposal asked MIT to join the FLA and the WRC in order to enforce fair labor standards in the manufacturing of MIT-licensed merchandise.

“I wasn’t at all surprised that it passed unanimously,” Kolenbrander said. “The students in this clearly led the way and did such a thoughtful and thorough job.”

Basu said that Kolenbrander told the students beforehand that the proposal should have a good chance of passing, but that they were not in direct contact with any members of the council.

“I wasn’t surprised, I was delighted,” Basu said. “Dr. Kolenbrander was pretty open with us about how the administrators felt.”

Basu said that the precedent for joining the FLA and WRC set by other universities helped their cause. “This is an issue where a lot of schools have already implemented these sort of policies,” he said. UTR proposed the plan shortly after Harvard University approved a similar labor code.

Implementation phase set to begin

Vest said that the “appropriate MIT offices” would establish contact with the FLA and WRC, under Kolenbrander’s direction. The Technology Licensing Office handles the licensing agreements for MIT apparel and accessories.

Kolenbrander said he expects to continue working on the implementation phase with the TLO and members of UTR, with whom he was still in contact.

“This really is a story of student-led change,” Kolenbrander said. “The students certainly need to continue to be a part of it.”

Basu said that he and other UTR members would continue to work with Kolenbrander while MIT joins the two labor monitoring groups. He said he expected that someone at the TLO would be designated the point person for the labor issue, but that “we’ll probably be meeting with [Kolenbrander] more than anyone else.”

Kolenbrander said that MIT was working closely with The Coop, the primary retailer of MIT-licensed apparel. While the labor code does not specifically apply to The Coop because they are independent of MIT, the MIT merchandise sold through the store is required to meet the labor standards.

“They’re not bound by anything per se, but the products they sell are bound,” Kolenbrander said.

Basu said that he had not heard any reaction from The Coop, but that he did not expect much change in the pricing of their products as a result.

FLA trying to bolster reputation

Basu said that joining the FLA and WRC should yield quick results, in the form of reports back to MIT on the labor environment at factories producing licensed products.

“The WRC does less factories more thoroughly, and probably more frequently now. The FLA is in a bit of a transition,” Basu said.

The WRC and FLA are two organizations whose purpose is to inspect factories and remedy any infractions that they observe on site. Critics have often charged the FLA for being an industry front and that more organizations are apt to join the association because the rules are more lax.

Basu said the FLA seems to be moving toward stricter standards since the two groups are in direct competition.

A total of 174 universities are part of the FLA, while only 94 are part of the WRC. Most of these also belonging to the FLA.

Brian Loux contributed to the reporting of this story.