Don’t Pay the FLA

What’s the FLA and What is Wrong with it?

The FLA was formed in 1999 as a successor to the White House Apparel Industry Partnership (created in 1997) in direct response to rising student awareness of the sweatshop conditions under which our college apparel is created.  Since then, the FLA has upheld itself as a legitimate factory monitoring organization that can be a resource for universities to ensure that their clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, although the FLA admits that when it does monitor factories, it interviews workers only with factory management’s full knowledge of who is being interviewed, allowing for worker intimidation.

Another challenge to the FLA’s legitimacy is the fact that the FLA Board of Directors is made up of Non-Governmental Organizations, University Officials, and Industry Representatives, which currently include reps from Adidas, Nike, and Gildan, all infamously anti-worker rights corporations. This reinforces many worker-rights advocate concerns that this model is a conflict of interest; corporations are essentially monitoring themselves (in the words of a USASer, “It’s like McDonald’s nutritionists boasting about how healthy a Big Mac is”).

While the FLA’s principal function should be monitoring and reporting working conditions in factories, the organization has always treated its factory cases not as serious worker rights abuses, but as corporate PR problems. Unlike the WRC, the FLA also lacks a history of allowing the students of its affiliate universities a meaningful role in the process, choosing to ignore student demands and to work exclusively with corporations, choice university administrators, and NGOs.

Since its creation, USAS, as well as numerous other worker rights organizations have been extremely critical of the FLA. In fact, the only union member of its governing board – UNITE – quit the organization more than five years ago in protest of the FLA’s policies. In response to the FLA’s corporate cover ups, USAS and our allies created an independent sweatshop investigatory organization, the Worker Rights Consortium, which is truly independent of corporate interests and has a decade-long track record of exposing sweatshop abuse.

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