Volume 93, Issue 53

Thursday, December 2, 1999


Examining the details

Gift that keeps on giving

Examining the details

Re: "Students demanding disclosure" Nov. 25

To the Editor:

In regards to the feature on sweatshops, there are just a few important things I would like to address.

First of all, University of Toronto vice-president Jon Dellandrea mentioned that "there is a danger of imposing North American labour standards on other countries... We may end up hurting the people we're trying to help." This is a very important point, however, he failed to acknowledge that Students Against Sweatshops works in solidarity with garment workers around the world.

For example, earlier this year, a delegation of SAS students from the U.S.A. paid a visit to a number of Central American countries where garments for the North American market are made. The purpose was to do further research and above all, to meet with the workers in these garment factories. Canadian SAS groups also work closely with the Maquila Solidarity Network which is an organization that maintains contact with workers in other countries.

Time and again, the workers have told us what they want and that they support what we're doing on our campuses. Our proposed Code of Conduct reflects what they wish to see. Importantly, one of the main provisions that we are pressing for, in a code, is the right to organize, something they are currently often denied. SAS will not do anything that workers do not want us to do – that is why, for example, we do not advocate a boycott. Hence, we are not merely imposing our North American standards as Dellandrea would suggest.

Secondly, Simon Pestridge of Nike asserts that factory jobs are entry level jobs and the wages workers receive should reflect this. What he fails to mention is that because Third World countries feel they must compete in a global market, governments in these countries will set minimum wages that are artificially low in order to attract multinationals. However, these wages are so low that they don't even provide these workers with enough to meet their very basic needs, such as adequate food and shelter.

Such low wages in Third World countries also work to lower work conditions in Canada (including lost jobs), as Canadian manufacturers scramble to compete. In the case of Canada, many companies contract their work out to smaller factories, some of which are indeed (illegal) sweatshops. Increasingly, companies are also contracting their work out to homeworkers who sew garments at home and are often paid by piece-work (per shirt they make). Often, the pay they end up with does not even reach the Canadian minimum wage, even if they work overtime. And overtime pay is a pipe dream.

These are reasons why SAS advocates for a LIVING wage.

Finally, with regards to whether a Code of Conduct is feasible at Western, I would like to point out that about 50 schools across North America have already adopted codes thanks to student pressure. Such schools range from large institutions like Duke, Michigan and Arizona universities, to smaller ones like Middlebury College. At U of T, a code has been negotiated and is now only awaiting final approval. As a highly influential and well-respected university, it only makes sense for Western to play a leading role by adopting a Code of Conduct, rather than feigning innocence or lack of time and resources. Paying attention to this matter would also demonstrate our commitment to Western's official mission statement, as well as the University Students' Council's commitment to certain statements found in their official policies.

And like the hundreds of students who have signed our petition so far, I personally am not comfortable with the fact that currently, there are no suitable measures in place to ensure that any Western garment I buy was not made under exploitative conditions. The SAS group at Western meets with the Campus & Community Affairs Committee of the Board of Governors Dec. 6.

Let's hope that Western isn't left in the dust as other schools across the continent show their commitment to operating under ethical and humane practices.

Helen Luu
Sociology IV
Students Against Sweatshops

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Copyright The Gazette 1999