University takes a stand against using sweatshops

Pittsburgh’s anti-sweatshop groups held a public hearing at a City Council meeting last Wednesday to enforce the city’s anti-sweatshop ordinance. For support, activists looked to Carnegie Mellon, whose licensing coordinator, Jay Marano, has held such regulations for university merchandise firmly in place for the last decade.

The hearing was the most public announcement of new developments in the way activists want the ordinance, originally passed in 1997, to be implemented in Pittsburgh. Activists have found a new poster child for their cause: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Local activists and baseball fans alike have been petitioning the Pirates to stop the use of sweatshop labor in the production of apparel featuring the team’s logo.

“Baseball is the best at making money from their logo,” said Kenneth Miller, a Pittsburgh native and co-founder of the campaign targeting the Pirates.
Colleges aren’t bad at turning a profit either. According to Miller, the same sweatshops that produce Pirates apparel are also making collegiate apparel for universities across the country — but not Carnegie Mellon. The university is one of more than 175 colleges and universities, including Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, who are members of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a group committed to the public disclosure of factory locations where illegal sweatshop labor may be being used.

Marano is the university’s voting liason to the WRC. In May 2005, he was elected to the WRC’s board of directors as the representative of University Caucus — schools with small or nonexistent campus trademark licensing programs. The university has been affiliated with the WRC since 2002.

Since 1998, Carnegie Mellon’s President’s Council for the Official Policy for Use of Carnegie Mellon Trademarks has required all merchandise bearing the Carnegie Mellon trademark to be purchased only from trademark licensed suppliers, even merchandise purchased for non-retail internal distribution and use.

In 2002 the President’s Council approved the Carnegie Mellon University Code of Workplace Conduct for Trademark Licensees.

“Carnegie Mellon condemns the use of sweatshop labor in the manufacturing of any product that bears the trademarks of this institution,” the document states in its introduction. Subsequent pages provide stipulations for protecting human rights, as well as the safety, wages, and hours, of licensees’ employees.

Now, the Pittsburgh chapters of several anti-sweatshop activist groups, including United Students Against Sweatshops and Sweatfree Communities, want to re-focus attention on the 1997 anti-sweatshop ordinance by persuading the Pirates to adopt the same standards that universities nationwide have.

“Anti-sweatshop legislation exists, but it’s not being adequately implemented anywhere,” Miller said. “If the Pirates do it, then the rest of the league will follow.”

Last Wednesday night, activists met to discuss the next steps to improve the relationship between Pittsburgh and the global apparel industry. The University of Pittsburgh, unlike Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne, is not a member of the WRC. Pitt students who tried to get the university to take action a few years ago were treated badly by the school’s administration, Miller said.

Wednesday’s meeting was led by Miller and Jon Hunt, a Pitt alumnus and national coodinator of the Campaign for Labor Rights, based in Washington, D.C.

Hunt, who also serves on the board of SweatFree Communities, spoke about why positive relationships with sweatshops are so hard to maintain. As soon as they find out they may be the subject of a human rights investigation, “companies have a tendency to cut and run,” he said.

Miller said the United States can use its buying power to change this.

“We can say, ‘If you’re going to do business here, you have to tell us where the factories are located,’  ” he said.

Members agreed that Pittsburgh was an appropriate place to start the campaign.

“Pittsburgh has a history of industrial workers,” said meeting attendee Mongezi Sefika wa Nkomo, the founder of Pittsburgh-based Azania Heritage International, a non-profit organization committed to promoting African issues in America and influencing U.S. policymakers.

The activists are hoping to get the support of local colleges and universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, when they next present their case to the City Council. So far, institutions have been resistant. Miller said that Marano was not present at last Wednesday’s hearing because of political reasons, but would not say what they were.

Marano confirmed that he did not participate in this week’s hearing via an e-mail statement.

Neither Marano nor his supervisor, Vice-President and General Counsel Mary Jo Dively, was available for comment.