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Champion Products Inc., Harvard's largest licensed apparel manufacturer, announced yesterday that it will comply with University demands to disclose all locations of its factories producing collegiate clothing.
The announcement marked an abrupt reversal for Champion, which for six months refused Harvard's request to release the names and locations of the company's overseas factories.
"We thought [Champion] had to do it and they came around and saw things our way," said University attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr.
The company pledged to release the sites by early January 2000.
The announcement came barely two weeks after a similar commitment by Gear for Sports, Harvard' s second largest licensee.
Champion decided on a policy of full disclosure after student activists across the country accused the company of manufacturing clothing in sweatshop conditions, said Peggy C. Carter, a Champion spokesperson.
"They made this an issue for our customers," Carter said. "We wanted to reassure them of our commitment to fair practices."
The Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) spearheaded the anti-sweatshop campaign on the Harvard campus. PSLM sponsored the "Rally for Justice" last March. At that rally, the University announced it would demand its licensees reveal the names and locations of the factories where its clothing was manufactured.
"The point of the sweatshop campaign is that if you're running a factory in Indonesia or China, it's your duty to prove that your factory is OK," said PSLM member Nitzhan Shoshan '00.
In accordance with the new University policy, Ryan traveled to Winston-Salem, S.C. in April to challenge Champion President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Flatow to yield to student demands for full disclosure.
"Universities were under tremendous pressures from students to do it and we had no incentive not to do it," Ryan said.
Six months later, Flatow finally agreed.
"Champion Products has made a decision to release to our collegiate bookstore customers the location of our manufacturing facilities," Flatow wrote in a letter to university licensing heads across the country
But the decision for the company was not an easy one, according to Carter. Champion, a subsidiary of the Sara Lee Corporation, had to weigh the competing concerns of remaining economically competitive and responding to its customers.
"It's a delicate balancing act," Carter said. "Because we are not as large, we wanted to protect our competitive position, so we did struggle with it."
Champion sells its products to about 3,500 collegiate bookstores, including the Coop, which in turn sell the apparel to students.
Champion pledged to release the locations of all its factories to all of its licensees. That promise goes beyond the disclosures made last month by Nike, which released the locations of only some of its factories and only to those schools that specifically requested the information.
"We are providing this information so that you can reassure your students of Champion's commitment to ethical workplace philosophies, principles, and practices," Flatow wrote.
According to Carter, Champion is "vehemently opposed" to sweatshop labor conditions, and views its overseas factories as an investment to be protected.
"You have to understand that when you go into a country and put machinery and a factory in there, and hire people and train them, the investment that you have made there is huge," she said.
Champion would not disclose how much business it does with Harvard, but the amount exceeds the $1million in sales that Gear for Sports does yearly in Harvard apparel.
Now that its two largest licensees have committed to full disclosure, Ryan said Harvard's role is virtually complete.
"Our job is done regarding our licensees. The others are much smaller," he said.
Champion's agreement to disclose its factories was a major victory, Shoshan said. But he said his group would now push the University to hire an independent monitor to check conditions at overseas factories that manufacture Harvard apparel.
Harvard currently relies on PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting and accounting firm. PSLM members have criticized Pricewaterhouse for maintaining business ties with the companies it is supposed to monitor.
"[Champion's announcement]is very good for the movement, because our actions last year were focused primarily on full disclosure, and that battle we've won," Shoshan said. "Our efforts now will be to focus on independent monitoring."
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