Many thanks to both the Internet and Swiss efficiency that allowed me to get a flight that arrived an hour before the meeting and take the only public bus from the airport to where the meeting was being held. The hardest part was getting exact change for the fare, which took more time than the journey itself! No one told me that one could survive in Switzerland with just a pocket full of Swiss coins.
The meetings themselves were great and productive. And the post-meeting get-together were also great, involving drinks and more talking. My small anxiety of talking business in a social environment turned into panic at not being able to catch up with American jokes at our extremely funny table at the reception— probably due in part to the Swiss wine consumed by my mates! But we got by.
>Our final stop was Penn State University, located deep in the heart of Pennsylvania, in the lovely town of State College. After a harrowing plane ride in, our very busy and productive day began with a student meeting, where questions were raised on two of the more challenging current labor rights cases, the <a href="BJ&B and Hermosa cases. In response, I offered some background and context for both of these cases to help students better understand what transpired at these factories.
One of the key issues that many people don’t fully understand is that the 2005 expiration of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement and the subsequent end of the quota system means that many garment factories are located in countries that have lost their set market advantage, even as they continue to lack other intrinsic competitive attributes. As a result, there is a high risk that many factories in this region of the world will be forced to close, move or both. Indeed, more than 50,000 apparel workers in this area have lost their jobs in the last two years as a result of these changes. These shifts in production are being driven by fundamental economic principles and not by a desire to bust unions or escape compliance. That doesn’t mean that we as labor and human rights advocates shouldn’t stand up to do as much as we can for these workers, particularly to see that code and other legal provisions along with other individual rights are respected.
>Rain greeted us on the next morning as we made a dash to Penn Station to catch our train to Wilmington, Delaware and the University of Delaware. At U of D, I had lunch and a stimulating discussion with a group of students eager to learn more about global supply chains and labor rights issues. Students (in behavior consistent with my travels to other schools) showed a refreshing openness to discussing the complexity of labor issues and their interaction with the market-economy and global supply chains. At FLA board member Marsha Dickson’s fashion and apparel studies class later that afternoon, I was able to interact with a group of aspiring fashion designers and the impact that supply chains could have on their work as designs are turned into finished products. I’m confident they’ll have a big impact in the years to come on both design and labor issues.
>Having just returned from my recent university tour, I am more encouraged than ever by the passion and drive I saw in students to resolve labor and human rights issues worldwide. As they always have, students and universities play a crucial role in campaigning against any form of social injustice… as we did in fighting the apartheid movement in South Africa to fighting sweatshop labor conditions today.
Despite difficult connections, including train delays and some very bumpy flights on small airplanes, Heeral Coleman, the FLA’s University Liaison, and I were able to get to all three of the universities we had scheduled.
On the first day of our tour, at Columbia University, I participated in a panel discussion on “Universities and Labor Standards in the Global Economy.” You can view a video of that meeting here. Later that evening, I was a guest speaker at a Columbia Law School seminar on “Transnational Human and Business Rights.” I found an intelligent and receptive audience for my talk touched on the evolution of the FLA’s work up through the current FLA 3.0, our new generation of labor compliance tools that go beyond mere factory monitoring and dig deeper to uncover and correct root causes of labor violations. If you want to read more about FLA 3. 0, here’s where you go.
>Worth Reading — The New York Times reported on this recent study by Human Rights Watch concerning Walmart’s efforts to keep unions out of its stores. The human rights group, which the newspaper noted typically focuses on rights violations in Burundi, North Korea or other foreign countries, said that when Wal-Mart stores faced unionization drives, the company often broke the law by, for example, eavesdropping on workers, training surveillance cameras on them and firing those who favored unions. Read the entire story here.