A group of University at Buffalo students enlisted two representatives Thursday from a national anti-sweatshop consortium to help persuade school administrators to join efforts to end abusive labor practices by overseas clothing manufacturers.
UB Students Against Sweatshops wants to ensure that no clothing bearing the school's logo is made by sweatshop labor.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, and Kathy Stevens of the Fair Labor Association said sweatshop monitoring programs already have enrolled 129 other colleges and universities to force those that produce the schools' sweat shirts and uniforms to follow reasonably fair labor practices.
Nova said lawlessness pervades the worldwide apparel industry, in part because few garments purchased domestically are produced domestically.
Domestic clothing manufacturers have long been outsourcing apparel production to factories in such places as Honduras, Malaysia and Taiwan. Worldwide production capacity, Nova noted, far exceeds market needs, putting intense competitive pressure on factory owners to sell their wares to American "manufacturers" at very low prices. Often, this forces the overseas factory owners -- and, occasionally, some domestic ones -- to overwork and underpay their workers, he said.
Like many institutions of higher learning, UB licenses outside companies to produce apparel with the school's logo. According to Daniel Cross of UB Students Against Sweatshops, the university keeps 7.5 percent of the profits, which goes to the school's general fund.
"These companies are using our logo and profiting from it, and we're profiting from it, but we're not requiring them to uphold any standards in their factories or to even tell us where those factories are," Cross said.
By affiliating with the Worker Rights Consortium, he said, UB would be assured such companies and those with which they do business follow a set of standards that ensure, for instance, they adhere to labor laws of the countries where they operate, pay workers the minimum or prevailing wage and not employ workers younger than 15.
Since the 1990s, colleges and universities such as Ohio State, Notre Dame and the University of California system have signed onto the idea of workers' rights by ensuring that workers have not been exploited in the production of their schools' apparel.
"It's not some kind of radical leftist thing; it's become very mainstream," Cross said.
UB students had failed to persuade former UB President William R. Greiner to embrace the idea but hope President John B. Simpson will listen. Dennis Black, UB vice president of student affairs, said further discussions on the worker rights campaign will follow Thursday's open forum.