Don’t hang DSP out to dry

A recent conference held at Queen’s brought together apparel purchasing representatives from four Ontario universities to discuss the possible implementation of the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP). The program advocates purchasing apparel from factories that have ethical labour practices and is spearheaded by the Worker’s Rights Consortium, an independent labour activist group based in Washington, D.C. By signing onto the DSP, Queen’s would join 30 American schools in the program and would be the first Canadian school to do so.

The program includes a three-year phase-in system wherein the participating universities’ licensees must gradually adjust their practices until 75 per cent of their purchasing is sourced from DSP-approved factories by the third year.

The University’s apparent reluctance to join the program stems from challenges ensuring supplier factories comply with the program’s regulations, said Queen’s Trademark Licensing Co-ordinator Debra Easter. In order for a factory to qualify for DSP status, at least 50 per cent of its output must be for colleges and universities. Easter said this quota isn’t feasible for Queen’s.

The issue of purchasing sweatshop-free clothing is not a new issue on campus. Queen’s Oxfam have repeatedly lobbied the University to amend its lax purchasing policies. Fair labour practices aren’t a concern that will disappear if ignored, and although implementing the program may be “cumbersome”, as Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker has said, that isn’t an excuse for inaction. It’s justified for the University to be apprehensive—being the only Canadian university involved with the program would be a challenge and our impact may be minimal. What isn’t justified would be to do nothing while claiming to look for other alternatives. Finding another initiative that would be more beneficial to Queen’s is a worthy idea, but it should be done in conjunction with whatever efforts can be made under the DSP.

Implementing such a system at Queen’s would ensure the school kept up the progress rather than just signing the papers.

The best option right now is to accept its smaller role in the DSP. If we choose to go it alone with an as-yet undetermined purchasing policy, Queen’s will be entirely ineffectual.

Queen’s can and should explore alternative programs while adopting the DSP’s goals in the interim. We need to help set an ethical standard and realize that doing nothing on the issue of ethical apparel won’t wash.

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