University considers ethics of outfitting

Queen’s No Sweat urges University to adopt Designated Suppliers Program

Alex Seebach and Larisa Droll of Queen’s No Sweat are pushing Queen’s to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program.
Alex Seebach and Larisa Droll of Queen’s No Sweat are pushing Queen’s to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program.

The University still isn’t sure it wants to sign onto a program ensuring its suppliers follow ethical labour practices. But students advocating for ethical purchasing policies hope a recent conference and continued dialogue will convince the administration more needs to be done.

The University held a conference evaluating the implementation of the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP) at Canadian universities Nov. 2.

The event brought students and purchasing representatives from Queen’s, the University of Guelph, McMaster University and Trent University together with the University’s license review board to spark a dialogue on issuing the program in Canada.

No Canadian institution has yet signed on to the program.

The Designated Suppliers Program is an initiative of the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent, Washington-based labour rights monitoring organization with which Queen’s is affiliated. The consortium helps universities enforce their manufacturing codes of conduct.

The program requires signatories to source most of their logo apparel from factories the consortium determines to comply with ethical labour practices.

Queen’s Trademark Licensing Co-ordinator Debra Easter said the 25-person conference resulted from several meetings between student representatives of the No Sweat campaign and the University’s licensing review board, which meets on a weekly basis to review the University’s code of conduct.

“The discussion that went on in the conference was, non-stop, on the development of the DSP, or at least a better or more improved message on trying to ensure that university logo apparel is produced in a factory where there are humane working conditions,” she said.

Easter said Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker will consider the conference’s results and decide whether to implement the program.

Easter said Queen’s hasn’t adopted the program because they’re not sure it will work within the Canadian market.

The program requires that suppliers (factories) have at least 50 per cent of their production going towards universities’ and colleges’ products in order to qualify for DSP status.

If Queen’s chooses to adopt the DSP program, it would mean that its licensees would have to use factories with DSP status. This would be done in phases—in the first year of the program, licensees would have to source 25 per cent of their products from DSP-approved factories. In the second year, the number would rise to 50 per cent, and it would rise to 75 per cent in the third year.

Easter said the quota for factories to gain the DSP status is too big.

“Our suppliers and producers don’t come near to nearing the quota,” she said. “So, literally, it would mean that we would adopt that program and it wouldn’t affect any of our licensees because they wouldn’t have any idea of sourcing any factories of that [DSP-approved] list.”

The Workers’ Rights inspects factories when they apply for DSP status, at regular intervals afterwards and when complaints by workers arise. If inspectors find violations, factories have the opportunity to correct the findings.

Failure to correct violations result in the loss of the factory’s approved status under the program.

No Sweat co-ordinators Alex Seebach and Larisa Droll also sit on the board as voting members.

Seebach, ArtSci ’09, said if Queen’s signs on, it could be the first Canadian university to do so.

“Something that came up in the conference is the need for student support, just because a lot of people on campus are unaware,” Seebach said. “Our job is to promote that knowledge.”

The DSP hasn’t yet been implemented in Canada due to smaller market sizes in comparison to U.S. institutions, Seebach said.

“The Canadian market is a lot smaller so most of it had to do with market size and our ability to take over.”

Seebach said the University’s market size shouldn’t be an obstacle if it signs on to the program which is already in place in about 30 American schools.

“By signing onto the DSP, Queen’s will be working with other schools in order to form critical mass. The fact that Queen’s does not form a large enough market all on its own is … all the more reason for Queen’s to enter into this coalition with other schools to promote social justice and workers’ rights.”

Seebach told the Journal Queen’s may want to adopt the program for publicity reasons.

“Everyone we talk to all recognize the issue of sweatshop labor as a huge issue that needs to be addressed. Queen’s doesn’t want to be associated with sweatshop labour,” she said. “The DSP gives them an opportunity to make a choice. … Right now, our code of conduct isn’t working. It’s not a matter of what the issues are but how we’re going to change where Queen’s get their clothing from.

“Queen’s University has a history and a reputation for leadership, and we hope that if we were to adopt the DSP, other Canadian schools would follow.” Last year, Queen’s Oxfam objected to the University’s apparel agreement with Russell Athletic when an El Salvadoran factory supplying the apparel company came under fire for labour-law violations.

Seebach said the conference helped convince the administration to further consider implementing the program.

“We all recognize the main problem: Queen’s clothing is still being produced in sweatshops. Now we need to find a solution, and Queen’s No Sweat feels like the DSP offers such a solution.”

She added that the administration still remains skeptical to whether the DSP is the right way to eliminate the issue.

“As of now, there has been no commitment to signing the DSP, though there has been a commitment to considering it, which is a good start.”

There was talk at the conference of creating a Canadian list of ethical production companies, Seebach said. The University of Toronto began the process in 1999, but not much has been done so far.

“I think Queen’s could … get involved in a Canadian alternative if the DSP wasn’t signed,” she said.

No Sweat is also planning to contact the Campus Bookstore to discuss selling fair-trade products there.

Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Right Consortium, said part of the challenges the program presents when applied in Canada is limited market dominance by Canadian universities.

“Canadian universities like Queen’s and U of T are well-respected in terms of their large student populations, but they are not major players in terms of sports licensing,” Nova said.

He said sports licensing is dominated by American schools like Ohio State and the University of Michigan. In order for Queen’s to have an impact on sports licensing, they have to do so in combination with American universities.

“We need more university support. ... I think the [program’s] fundamental model applies to Canada as well as the U.S. in terms of using the university’s relations with apparel companies to press for improvement in working wages.”

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