Nike backs worker rights through FLA, but not WRC

Nike weighed in on the issue of labor rights monitoring agencies Monday in no uncertain terms.

The apparel industry giant clearly endorses the Fair Labor Association, an organization with stated goals similar to those of the Worker Rights Consortium, which the University recently joined.

A statement released late Monday announced that Nike CEO Phil Knight will halt all future personal donations to the University. Knight said that the WRC “has no protocols, no credibility, no role for the companies whose businesses are being monitored and no independence.”

Earlier Nike statements have lambasted the WRC calling it “a loosely formed organization whose operating tenets include a ‘gotcha monitoring’ system and an ambiguous living wage provision.”

The company made its position on the WRC clear late in March when it pulled out of a contract with Brown University, one of the founding members of the WRC. After the Rhode Island liberal arts school stipulated that all of its trademark licensees comply with the code of conduct of the WRC, Nike stopped supplying Brown’s hockey teams with equipment.

In a letter to the Brown community dated March 28, Nike decried the WRC for excluding some parties from the negotiating table: “We fundamentally believe that the only effective way to make progress in improving factory conditions around the world is to have all stakeholders at the table. The WRC directly rejects this premise, choosing instead to exclude industry and other key stakeholders.”

Nike is participating in — and loudly endorsing — the FLA, a product of the Apparel Industry Partnership, which is a group of manufacturers, universities and consumer, labor and human rights organizations, started by the White House in 1996.

The FLA allows industry representatives on its board of directors. It also allows companies to pick their own monitors, and factory monitoring visits are pre-announced.

Those who are pulling for the WRC as the factory monitoring organization of choice criticize the FLA for letting the garment industry monitor itself.

“I’m sure that there were no Nazis on the Nuremberg war tribunal,” said Randy Newnham, a spokesman for the Human Rights Alliance campus organization. He said he doesn’t think that clothing manufacturers have a right to be at the table.

Because of the FLA’s structure and monitoring, groups like the HRA lend it no credence.

“Basically, this is just a PR stunt of the garment industry and the Clinton administration,” Newnham said.

The WRC is not free from criticism either, however.

The New York-based group has been criticized for blocking media from attending its inaugural meeting April 7.

Others have problems with the WRC’s board member selection process and the amount of influence that universities will have. Critics have also noted that the WRC, with no business representation at all, is imbalanced.


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