UC Regents Vote Against Slave Labor Resolution

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Lucent Technologies shareholders - including officials representing the UC system - overwhelmingly rejected a resolution Wednesday limiting the use of slave labor in China, a Lucent spokesperson said.

The UC system owns more than 10.5 million shares of Lucent stock, valued at nearly $800 million as of December, according to documents from the university treasurer's office. The UC Board of Regents, responsible for voting on behalf of the UC system, opposed the resolution. The proposal was eventually defeated at the shareholders annual meeting in Oakland.

Supporters said the resolution would have provided the company with a concrete policy statement regarding slave labor and would have forced Lucent to incorporate anti-slave labor policies into its contracts with international vendors.

"Big American companies need to provide their own slave labor policies," said Carl Olson, chair of State Department Watch, a foreign policy watchdog group headquartered in Washington, D.C. "The question is what sort of policy do they have? The policy Lucent says it has is simply a piece of paper, with nothing written down anyplace."

The proposal's opponents, however, said Lucent already has a strong internal policy against slave labor.

"Lucent's policy is the appropriate response to the forced labor concerns," said Lucent spokesperson Jeff Baum. "We didn't see a need to adopt another policy."

This is the fourth year that the UC system has voted against the slave labor proposal.

"Good corporate citizenship is an important consideration for the university in making good investment choices," said UC spokesperson Brad Hayward. "Our information is that Lucent does have an existing corporate policy."

Data from last year's vote indicate that nine of the 26 regents voted against the proposal - one voted in favor, and 16 did not vote.

"We've been working on the university for the past couple of years," Olson said. "One of our biggest problems is getting the regents to pay attention to the voting."

In 1997, the UC regents voted unanimously to stop importing goods that had been made with slave labor, a policy modeled after current state law. This policy does not stop the university from voting against slave labor bans in its stock investments.

Much of the debate surrounding the Lucent proposal centered around whether Lucent's existing policy adequately prevented the company from using slave labor.

Baum said Lucent pays its Chinese workers at least China's minimum wage and frequently checks to make sure its anti-slave labor policies are being followed.

Olson, on the other hand, called Lucent's anti-slave labor measures a "nothing policy" and said the company does not write its provisions into contracts with vendors.

Former Student Regent Max Espinoza, the only regent to vote in favor of the measure last year, said his vote sent a message to corporations using slave labor.

"It makes sense for corporations to be socially responsible in their operations," he said. "Slave and forced labor should not be tolerated; it's something our society should reject. I'm hopeful that the fact that this issue continues to come up will send a message to any company or corporation who has yet to stop associating themselves with forced or slave labor."


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