Rutgers Students Against Sweatshops Put FLA CEO on Trial, Demand President McCormick Disaffiliate from FLA

Rutgers USAS confronting FLA CEO Auret Van HeerdenActivists, FLA president discuss worker concerns

Published: Monday, February 28, 2011

Daily Targum News

by Kristine Choi, Contributing Writer

As a response to student concerns, the University’s administration held a meeting Friday afternoon with Fair Labor Association (FLA) President and CEO Auret van Heerden to analyze workers’ rights.

Rutgers University Students Against Sweatshops (RUSAS) began a campaign last fall urging the University to become independent from the FLA due to matters regarding the organization’s role in protecting the rights of workers.

“We’ve been constantly pressuring President Richard L. McCormick and the University to disaffiliate from the FLA,” said Zachary Lerner, president of RUSAS. “Numerous times we’ve gone to President McCormick’s office, numerous times hand delivered the letters and done protests.”

One of the main concerns presented during the meeting in Winants Hall on the College Avenue campus was the case of Russell Athletic and the unjust treatment of workers, said Lerner, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Although the FLA released a report of the situation completed by one of their investigators, the FLA failed to respond to the circumstances in an appropriate manner, he said.

“It wasn’t until the FLA received pressure from NGOs and student groups that people started focusing on it,” Lerner said. “Despite all the evidence against Russell Athletic, the FLA only suspended them instead of kicking them out.”

Members of RUSAS used charts and graphs to show statistics and compare findings from the FLA annual reports and third-parties reports.

“It is disturbingly superficial the way the FLA reports are given,” said Molly Magier, organizing director of RUSAS. “Even in the few cases that the FLA found freedom of association, the remediation percentage was less than 10 percent.”

Magier, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said the discrepancies in the reports show the FLA and its procedures’ failure to fix one of the biggest problems workers are facing.

In response, van Heerden claimed that contrasting FLA and the methodology it implements on workers was an irrelevant comparison.

“The reason why freedom of association percentage in third party complaints are higher is because most of the third party complaints are about freedom of association,” van Heerden said. “The graphs taken from our general auditing data are recording violations of freedom of association.”

RUSAS members questioned the situation further by appealing to study findings in 2008, which show the factory remediation rates being lower than 10 percent.

“If [the FLA] has lower than 10 percent in one year for finding freedom of association, there’s got to be a problem there,” Lerner said.

The meeting adjourned at 4 p.m. and van Heerden was unable to comment further on the issues discussed.

“I think it was definitely a great meeting because we were able to show why the FLA is not doing a good job at what it’s supposed to do,” Lerner said.  Tell President McCormick don't pay the FLA

He said the situation indicated a conflict of interest.

“It’s hard to see how anyone can do a good job monitoring factories when they are being paid by those exact same brands to go monitor it,” Lerner said.

Lerner used the Russell Athletic case as an example of the inefficiency found in the FLA measures.

“They were trying to say they did a good job, which is just not true,” he said. “They basically defended Russell Athletic until more than 50 universities had severed their contracts with Russell Athletic, including the University.”

Lerner felt the meeting with van Heerden was successful in promoting RUSAS’ fight against the unjust treatment of workers.

Marina Sazhin, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, felt the urgency of taking initiative to remove FLA from the University.

“I feel like if someone is genuinely interested then things like this are worth it to come out and spend two hours on a Friday and listen,” she said. “It’s someone’s job, it’s someone’s health.”

As an active member of RUSAS for the past two years, Sazhin felt the organization did a great job presenting their arguments against van Heerden.

“At certain points he was taken aback by all the information we had,” she said. “So I think that’s pretty successful.”

Kim Manning, vice president of University Relations, said the meeting was a good opportunity for the students to share their concerns and speak directly with FLA leadership.

“Our students are very concerned and very committed to these things,” she said. “I think the FLA leadership is also committed to some of the same concerns so I think it was a good opportunity for open dialogue.”

Richard Garzon, a RUSAS member, said the meeting was an example of RUSAS taking strides toward progress.

“I think it went as well as we could have hoped for it to go,” said Garzon, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “We got the main cases and discussions that we wanted to get out.”

RUSAS members anticipate the University licensing committee’s upcoming report.

“Hopefully the licensing committee will choose to get rid of the FLA here as soon as possible,” Lerner said. “A lot of universities are all trying to get rid of the FLA right now and this is outrageous that we still belong to them.”

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