Report Reveals Poor Working Conditions

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After a year of research, the University of California released a report Friday highlighting unfair labor processes and dangerous working conditions in factories that manufacture merchandise featuring UC trademarks.

Along with four other universities, the UC system commissioned the 147-page report by a team of independent consultants to investigate working conditions in factories spanning seven countries.

"This puts more of a spotlight on the problems," said Mary Spletter, a UC spokesperson. "The university is dismayed by the findings, but it was exactly the kind of information we needed before we could do something else."

The report found sub-par working conditions in all the countries the consultants visited, including China, El Salvador, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand and the United States.

"This has been an issue for some time, wanting to look into the actual working conditions where the university's merchandise is manufactured," Spletter said.

She said factories' awareness of the codes of labor conduct is not always enough to ensure compliance with the rules. The report also found the universities' methods of monitoring for potential labor violations are not adequate to ensure compliance.

The most common violations of the code of conduct included limitations of freedom of association, violations of regulations on working hours and overtime compensation, discrimination against women, health and safety problems and increased subcontracting, according to the report.

"On different fronts, we're trying to get as much information as possible," Spletter said. "It's premature to say (what actions the university will take) but we will continue to work with other universities that are concerned about this and continue to work with the student faculty committee."

The university also sent letters to its top 25 manufacturers on Friday, asking them to contact university campuses to reassure them that the companies are complying with the code of conduct, Spletter said.

The report is one of three projects undertaken by the university to investigate factories where its merchandise is produced, she said.

A UC-wide, student-faculty group, led by UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, revised the previous code of conduct and suggested possible methods of monitoring. In addition, a separate committee in the spring gave the university advice on how to improve its monitoring process.

The university will also participate in a watchdog group called the Workers' Rights Consortium, an action many students applaud.

"The university did the right thing joining the Workers' Rights Consortium and they should be commended for that decision," said Jeremy Blasi, a member of United Students Against Sweatshops.

The university, however, has agreed to participate in the consortium for just one year, and some students said they feel it should extend its commitment.

"I think the university should commit to at least five years on the consortium," said Snehal Shingavi, a member of United Students Against Sweatshops. "The university should set aside serious funds to investigate how to ensure better conditions where university apparel is produced."

The latest findings are not surprising, Shingavi said.

"I think it's outrageous that things students have known for so long are just now being confirmed," he said.

Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan also helped fund the research.


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