Oberlin College, OH Sweatshop-Free Apparel Code of Purchasing

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Oberlin College, OH, US

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Type: Policy

Status: Adopted in 1999

Source File: http://www.oberlin.edu/newserv/stories/purchasing_policy.html


I. Principles of Code of Purchasing

A. Ethical Institution: Whereas Oberlin College states that one of its defining purposes is the promotion of "social awareness, social responsibility, and capacity for moral judgment," it is incumbent upon the College to not contribute to the illegal mistreatment of workers. And, whereas the College spends hundreds of thousands of dollars of student and alumni money purchasing clothing, and sports and work uniforms, it is incumbent upon the university to never knowingly purchase said clothing from manufacturers who use sweatshop labor at any phase of the production process, as well as to take as proactive a stance as possible to investigate the companies it deals with, and to seek out and promote non-sweatshop alternatives.

B. Moral Leadership: Whereas Oberlin College recognizes that the prevalence of sweatshop exploitation world-wide represents an unacceptable condition of contemporary society that must change, and, whereas the College as an institution is a moral leader, it is incumbent upon the College to publicly take a strong initiative against the use of sweatshop labor so that others may follow our example.

C. Transformation of an Unjust Industry: Whereas Oberlin College recognizes that the prevalence of sweatshop use depends on an apparel industry which only competes on the basis of price, quality and image, it is incumbent upon the College to seek to transform this industry by elevating the significance of the ethical behavior of manufacturers and offering incentives to behave as such-thus forcing corporations to compete for consumers' business on the basis of how ethically they behave.

II. General Commitment to a Sweat-Free Campus

A. General Pledge Against Sweatshop Goods: Whereas Oberlin College refuses to contribute to the mistreatment and exploitation of workers, the College pledges to never knowingly purchase apparel produced under sweatshop conditions at any stage of the production process. In keeping with this pledge, Oberlin College will institute mechanisms to prevent the College from contributing to apparel sweatshop production.

B. General Pledge to Promote Ethical Behavior: Whereas Oberlin College recognizes that it is not enough to sanction those manufacturers who mistreat their employees, the College pledges to institute mechanisms which will reward those manufacturers who behave ethically and provide positive reinforcement which will encourage manufacturers to change their unethical practices.

III. Employment Standards

A. Employment Standards: Oberlin College will only knowingly purchase from apparel manufacturers whose workers and whose contractors' workers are present at work voluntarily, not at undue risk of physical harm, fairly compensated and not exploited in any way. In addition, the following specific guidelines must be followed:

1. Forced Labor: There shall not be any use of forced labor, whether in the form of prison labor, indentured labor, bonded labor or otherwise.
2. Child Labor: No person shall be employed at an age younger than 15 (or 14 where the law of the country of manufacture allows) or younger than the age for completing compulsory education in the country of manufacture where such age is higher than 15. Firms should work with governmental, human rights, and non-governmental organizations to minimize the negative impact on any child released from employment as a result of the enforcement of this Code.
3. Health and Safety: Employers shall, (a) Construct and maintain a safe and healthy working environment which will prevent accidents and injury to health, and (b) provide compensation for any injuries, illnesses, or diseases which may arise in an employee as a result of her or his working for said employer.
4. Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining: (1) Employers shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association/unionization. If employees engage in the process of unionization, employers shall not retaliate against any employees in any relevant manners. No threats shall be made, there shall be no indication to any employee that she or he will be punished if she or he expresses approval of the union, and/or decides to join the union. (2) Once a union has been formed, employer shall negotiate in good faith with the union and its representatives.
5. Wages and Benefits: Employers must provide wages and benefits which comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and which match or exceed the local prevailing wages and benefits in the relevant industry.
6. Living Wage Preference: It is understood that wages are important to workers' lives. It is recognized that in most countries, the minimum wage does not come close to meeting the basic needs of workers and their families. For example, in Haiti, the minimum wage is 11 cents an hour. The United Nations has deemed 53 cents an hour as the amount necessary for workers to meet their basic needs plus have a bit of money left over for discretionary use. To this extent, it is understood that preference will be given to companies who pay workers a living wage, as the committee chooses to define it.
It is recognized that this wage will differ by region in the United States and that it will differ by country abroad. It is recognized that the exact figures of each state in the US and for other countries are not known as of yet, but under this agreement, it is understood that the committee created to work on the Code of Purchasing will work towards obtaining these figures--an effort already being made elsewhere that will reduce any labor on our part. Once these figures are obtained, Oberlin College will make a concerted effort to promote a living wage as an optimal standard of ethical business.
7. Hours of Work:
a. Employees shall not be required to work more than the lesser of (I) 48 hours per week or (II) the limits on regular hours allowed by the law of the country of manufacture.
b. Overtime shall not (I) exceed 12 hours per week, (II) be, in any manner, required of any employee.
c. Employees shall be entitled to at least one day off in every seven day period.
d. Homework (work not done at the place of the manufacture) shall not be required of, nor pressured upon, any employee, and in any instances of homework the employer must ensure that it is done in a manner safe for the employee and any persons who may be in the surrounding vicinity.
8. Overtime Compensation: Payment for overtime work shall be at a rate of 1.5 times the normal salary, or such premium rate as is legally required in the company of manufacture, whichever is higher.
9. Temporary Workers: The use of temporary workers should not be a permanent practice of any company. Rather, they should be used in response to unforeseen events, or yearly events--such as an increase in demanded production around the winter holidays--which last for a short period. Temporary workers are not to be used as a weapon against the employees in the case of a union struggle. They are not to be used by the company to escape from paying benefits to its part or full-time employees.
10. Labor Standards Environment: In countries where law or practice conflicts with these labor standards, the above mentioned standards should apply to corporate practice. Firms should refrain from any actions that would diminish the protections of these labor standards. The College reserves the right to terminate relations with firms that make goods in countries where: (a) progress toward implementation of the employment standards in the Code is no longer being made; and (b) compliance with the employment standards in the Code is deemed impossible. The College shall make such determination based upon examination of reports from governmental, human rights, labor and business organizations and after consultation with the relevant firms.

B. Determining Violation of Employment Standards

1. Standards for Determining Violations: Violation of the above working conditions may be determined through independent documentation of abuses.
2. Judgment of Violations: Judgment of violations will be the responsibility of the joint faculty/student/administrative committee provided for below. It will be the Committee's responsibility to weigh any documented evidence against the circumstances of the violation/s and the efforts of the manufacturer to improve the conditions which led to the violation. The Committee will have the final say on determining whether violations have been committed.

IV. Mechanisms for Maintaining a Sweat-Free Campus

A. The Code as a Mechanism: In enacting this Code of Purchasing the College has committed itself to terminate any purchasing relations with firms found to be selling goods produced in violation of the College's Purchasing Code of Purchasing at any stage of the production process. This Code acts as a mechanism in that it is now incumbent upon the College to terminate any purchasing relations if evidence is presented to the College by members of the community or outside organizations that a firm the College purchases apparel from has violated the College's Code of Purchasing. This process is independent of any established mechanisms created by the College to further promote the Code.

B. Intern: A work-study intern who would approximately work ten hours a week. The intern will be a college employee, whose boss will be the committee created in section IV C.

1. Responsibilities: The Intern will have the following responsibilities:
a. Researching Firms: The Intern will to the best of its abilities research the firms the College does purchasing with relevant information about sweatshop made apparel in order to recognize violations of the College's Code of Purchasing. This responsibility will include the compilation of a list of firms the College does business with and the maintenance of any relevant records necessary to effectively enforce the Code.
b. Act as a Liaison: The Intern will act as a liaison between student senate, purchasing and financing. The Intern will be responsible for meeting with each group once a month to actively inform them of his/her research.
c. Developing Mechanisms: The Intern will actively work on developing mechanisms with other campuses who have signed Codes of Purchasing to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Codes. Such mechanisms include the possibilities of using an independent monitor; the creation of a coalition of campuses that would work together on this issue.

C. Committee: A Committee composed of the intern, a representative for the athletic director, a representative for purchasing, a co-op bookstore representative, at least one senator, two interested students, two faculty members will act as a mechanism for maintaining and promoting the Code of Purchasing. Prospective committee members, including faculty, will apply to be on the committee through usual the Student Senate committee channels as specified by Student Senate. Other interested Oberlin Community members can become Committee members with full voting privileges by undergoing the following process: The interested party must attend three consecutive Committee meetings, after which the Committee will inform Student Senate of his/her desire to become a member. Student Senate will then interview this candidate through the usual senate channels before the next Committee meeting at which the new member will have full voting privileges.

1. Responsibilities: The Committee will have the following responsibilities.
a. Help Select Intern: The Committee will solicit and interview the Intern from the community at large to help the proper channels select and hire an interested and qualified candidate. The committee will also evaluate the Intern bimonthly, submitting their evaluation to the proper channels.
b. Review Interns Research: The Committee will meet with the intern at least once a month to review his/her research.
c. Reviewing Violations: The Committee will review any alleged violations of the College's purchasing policy and make judgments as to whether they constitute violations of the College's Purchasing Policy. Based on this judgment, the Committee will decide on the appropriate course of action for the College as provided by this Policy.
d. Review the policy annually. (i) The Committee will review the policy annually to evaluate its effectiveness. (ii) The Committee will review amendments: Amendments must be submitted to the committee for its approval. Each committee member has equal voting power. Simple Major of the committee has to be present for the vote to take place. Only present members can vote. Once an amendment passes through the committee it must go through Student Senate for approval. Once passed by Senate, the amendment goes into effect immediately.
e. Publicity: (i) The Committee will be responsible for publicizing the college's purchasing practices once a month. (ii) The Committee will be responsible for informing the companies with whom the college purchases from of this policy, especially to inform those companies whose labor practices have been determined to violate this policy of the reasons for discontinued purchasing. (iii) The Committee will inform other campus organizations of this policy so that the purchasing of organizational, admissions, etc. apparel will be purchased according to this policy as well.
f. Seeking and Rewarding Sweatshop-Free Firms: The Committee will to the best of its abilities work with the College's purchasing agents to seek out firms that have instituted proactive mechanisms to insure sweat-free production of goods and give preference to said firms by urging the College to consider doing business with them, taking into consideration competitive price, quality, and style. The Committee will also seek means to reward these companies for their humane labor practices, for example: giving them publicity opportunities such as event/group sponsorship.
g. Annual Report: On the first of every November, the Committee will issue a public report on the status of its efforts to promote a sweat-free campus to the Review, WOBC, the Board of Trustees, the Vice President of Finance and the Athletic Department.

D. Proactive Buying Policy: Through the efforts of the committee in seeking out firms who have shown themselves to be committed to being sweat-free, the College commits itself to giving preference to sweat-free firms with well-developed monitoring policies-especially those firms who agree to sign disclosure agreements with the College-taking into consideration competitive price, quality, and style. Those individuals responsible for purchasing goods for the College will keep in regular contact with the Committees.

V. Enforcement of Code of Purchasing

A. Informing Firms of Policy: In order for the Code to be effective, it is imperative that manufacturers be aware of the Code and that the College communicate the reasons for any decisions to terminate purchasing relations if firms are found to be in violation of the College's standards.

B. Terminating Business Relationship: Once the committee has determined that firm has violated the College's standards and that said firm has not shown a commitment to comply with the College's standards within an established time frame, the College will immediately terminate all purchasing relations with said firm until the firm can prove improved ethical behavior. Once a violation has been found and purchasing relations have been, the burden of proof lies with the firm to show that it has improved working conditions.

VI. Development of Mechanisms

A. Pledge of Research and Development: Acknowledging that parameters for an independent monitor; coalition of sweat-free campuses; and living wage standards have not yet been established and that any judgments as to their feasibility are necessarily premature, the College commits itself to researching and developing these mechanisms with the hope that they may increase the effectiveness and efficiency of Oberlin's Code of Purchasing. This should primarily take place through the established committee/s.

B. Review of Mechanisms: One year from the adoption date of the College's Code of Purchasing, the College commits itself to reviewing the development and research concerning an independent monitor, a coalition of sweat-free campuses, living wage standards and any other mechanisms developed; and deciding in consultation with the Committee whether these mechanisms are feasible for Oberlin.

1. While the College must review the development and research of mechanisms in one year, the College will review any mechanisms completely developed beforehand that the Committee believes are ready to be implemented.
2. If in one year it is decided by the Committee and the College that any mechanism is in need of further development, it should be reviewed again in no more than six months.

C. Promotion of Mechanism Development: The College pledges to promote the development of these mechanisms to other Colleges and Universities to increase the potential of their successful development.

VII. Promoting More Effective Anti-Sweatshop Efforts

A. Vocal Opposition Against Sweatshops: The Committee will publicize its commitment against sweatshop labor, communicating its commitment to other colleges and universities, and encouraging their participation in the campaign for Sweat-Free Campuses.

B. Working with Other Institutions: The Committee will work with other schools and interested organizations to improve the effectiveness of its anti-sweatshop mechanisms.

C. Work with Community to Increase Presence of Code: The Committee will promote the college's anti-sweatshop stance within the Oberlin community to increase sweat-free campus conditions.

VIII. Time Frame

A. Immediate: Upon adoption of this Code of Purchasing, the College will immediately create the Committee and publicly promote the Sweatshop-Free Campus Campaign, by October 1999. Until an intern can be selected and hired and the position placed in the budget, the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) will act as the interim Intern. Before the Intern takes his/her position, she will be trained by SLAC members and caught up to speed. The College will immediately work to influence the passage of similar Codes at other institutions.

B. Long Term: In one year from the adoption of this Code, the Committee will review the development of alternative mechanisms for maintaining a Sweatshop-Free Campus, as outlined above. The College will consider any mechanisms developed before one year is up, if the Committee deems the mechanisms ready for review.