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Apparel Factory Report Due After Year-Long Probe

Report draws fire even before its release

By Robert K. Silverman, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard and four other universities will announce the findings of a major joint report on worldwide apparel manufacturing today, said University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr.

The announcement has already sparked a swarm of criticism.

The report caps a year of investigation into the labor conditions of factories that produce college-licensed apparel and analysis of the factory monitoring process itself.

"This was not an attempt to gather evidence exhaustively, but rather to take a first look at conditions and to determine how information can be gathered in a reliable, efficient way," Ryan wrote in an e-mail message.

A team of consultants traveled to seven different countries and spoke with workers, factory owners, government officials, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and others to gather data for the report.

The University will release the findings of the report today at noon.

The report analyzes these findings to judge whether manufacturers are complying with local labor laws, codes of conduct and standards for fair working practices.

Last year, protests over labor conditions in factories making college apparel swept campuses across the country, including Harvard.

After one such protest, Harvard declared it would not do business with apparel manufactures that do not abide by a code of conduct that requires employers to pay a living wage and disclose factory names and locations.

The controversy surrounding today's report stems from the role of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an international business firm hired to conduct onsite factory inspections in each of the seven countries.

Last week, one of the report's authors, Dara O'Rourke, an expert in worldwide labor standards and an assistant professor at MIT, published a report criticizing the monitoring practices of Pricewaterhouse.

O'Rourke's report levied a series of charges against the corporation, concluding Pricewaterhouse's monitoring methods are "significantly flawed."

O'Rourke said Pricewaterhouse monitors failed to note serious health and safety violations, fraudulent and illegal labor practices and instances of discrimination. He also charged that monitors rely primarily on information provided by management, not worker testimony, and he called for greater transparency throughout the process.

'The factory inspection reports PwC produced did not convey an accurate picture of the conditions in these factories," O'Rourke's critique stated. "The reports are so condensed that they miss major issues and paint a false impression of a factory's compliance with local laws."

Members of the Harvard Student Against Sweatshops (HSAS) have echoed O'Rourke's criticisms.

"It's absolutely unacceptable to continue to rely on corporate monitors," said HSAS member Benjamin L. McKean '02, who is also a Crimson editor. "Pricewaterhouse does not have the trust of these workers. They know that Pricewaterhouse is working for their bosses and not for their best interest."

Pricewaterhouse yesterday denied O'Rourke's charges.

Randy Rankin, Pricewaterhouse's global leader of the contractor compliance practice, said O'Rourke was only present at a couple of inspections out of the thousands the corporations conducts each year.

"Dr. O'Rourke's work is based on two visits which he somehow projects to 6,000," said Rankin, referring to the industry-leading number of inspections Pricewaterhouse made last year. "[His report] reflects his bias towards certain issues, but also contains inaccuracies and inconsistencies."

Rankin said Pricewaterhouse does take worker input into account, by using an indigenous inspection team, fluent in the native language, to conduct confidential interviews of randomly selected workers--contrary to O'Rourke's charges.

Rankin also said the labor and health violations cited by O'Rourke are not accurate, given the existing laws in the locales visited.

"I can't stress enough that while ours is not a perfect process, it is an evolving process," Rankin said. "It is the most comprehensive effort available today and making a real difference in the world."

Rankin also said the report's team of consultants, including O'Rourke, were responsible for hiring Pricewaterhouse and provided the directives for the company to follow.

Ryan said he was aware of O'Rourke's critique but did not expect his findings to tarnish the report.

"I am not a factory monitor, and I'm not in a position to judge the validity of Professor O'Rourke's criticisms," he wrote in an e-mail message. "O'Rourke has affirmed to us that his criticisms do not affect the validity or integrity of the [consultants'] report, which he participated in and stands behind."

Dubbed the Independent University Initiative, the report was funded by Harvard, the Universities of California, Michigan and Notre Dame, and Ohio State University.

The universities hired a team of three consultants--O'Rourke, the Business for Social Responsibility Education Fund and the Investor Responsibility Research Center--to prepare the report, and they in turn engaged Pricewaterhouse to conduct two factory visits in each of the seven countries visited.

Together, factories in the seven countries, including China, El Salvador, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand and the United States, are responsible for the production of much the nation's college apparel.

Ryan said the next step for the University is to analyze the data contained in the report and ask for the input of students and faculty on campus.

"We look forward to a far-reaching discussion of what Harvard can, and ought to, do; with whom we ought to do it; and what we can expect to accomplish," he wrote.

--Staff writer Robert K. Silverman can be reached at rsilverm@fas.harvard.edu.

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