Harvard Joins Apparel Factory Oversight Group

PSLM claims monitors will have conflict of interest

Harvard will soon make a commitment to independent monitoring of overseas factories that manufacture University apparel, a move student protestors have demanded for more than a year.

But some students say they are not satisfied with the terms of the agreement, which would put factory monitoring in the hands of an independent agency.

Harvard plans to join forces with several universities to allow easier monitoring of overseas factories that make Harvard apparel. Their agreement is still being negotiated, but an announcement is scheduled for later this week.

Student activists at Harvard, however, expressed concern that the new agreement would give too much power to monitoring agencies that might be influenced by their other clients--the clothing companies themselves.

The University of California system and the University of Notre Dame will join Harvard in the coalition. The three universities, along with a fourth and possibly fifth to be named later, will make up the coalition. The agreement will last for one year as a "pilot program," said University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr.


Ryan, who started the discussions, has been meeting with student activists and Harvard officials throughout the past year to address growing labor concerns.

"It was an idea that grew out of discussions that I have been having with students here, with my counterparts at other Ivy institutions and with President [Neil L.] Rudenstine," Ryan said.

The agreement would allow the universities to "pool their resources" to investigate overseas sweatshops, according to William P. Hoye, associate vice-president and general counsel at Notre Dame.

"It seems to make sense to have one monitor [agency] monitor all of these factories and share the cost of monitoring so our limited monitoring dollars can go farther," Hoye said.

Universities in the coalition will accept the same data from a single independent monitoring agency and possibly a few non-governmental and religious organizations.

The pilot program is designed to answer three questions about overseas factories: what condition the factories are in, what universities can do to improve their conditions, and how universities can effectively improve the lives of factory workers.

Ryan explained that information would be gathered for one year and then used to construct an effective policy for overseas factories.

"The first step to coming up with answers is to find out what the facts are, so that's essentially what lies behind this," he said.

Since the new coalition hasn't been formally announced, a monitoring agency has yet to be named. Notre Dame did hire Price Waterhouse Coopers to monitor its own factories earlier this year.

In the past, student protestors have demanded specifically that Price-Waterhouse-Coopers not be assigned to act as an independent monitor. The firm already serves as a consultant to companies including Nike, Reebok and Liz Claiborne, which some students said creates a conflict of interest.

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