MIT has joined two coalitions that monitor and improve work conditions at apparel manufacturers overseas. The agreements ensure that all licensed MIT products will be made in factories that comply with standard labor and health codes.
Past investigations of collegiate apparel factories have revealed worker abuses ranging from forced labor and exposure to toxic materials, to blocked fire exits and physical abuse.
Members of the student activist group United Trauma Relief were primarily responsible for urging MIT's participation in the coalitions. In their proposal to MIT President Charles M. Vest, they outlined the differences between the two agreements:
"The Fair Labor Association has close ties to some apparel manufacturers, providing it with extensive entrance rights into some facilities but also limiting its range and efficacy. The Worker's Rights Consortium, on the other hand, has less industry affiliation but is capable of more extensive monitoring at a wider range of facilities and has a more effective inspection protocol than the FLA ... [W]e recommend that MIT join both."
The FLA has 174 affiliated colleges and universities; the WRC has 104.
As they formulated their proposal, United Trauma Relief members consulted students at other affiliated universities as well as MIT labor experts, including Assistant Professor Dara O'Rourke of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, whose work centers on sweatshops.
Kirk Kolenbrander, special assistant to the president, facilitated the interaction between the students and the administration and suggested refinements to preliminary drafts of the proposal.
Shortly after the plan was submitted in late spring, the Academic Council unanimously approved its adoption.
In an e-mail to the students involved in the effort, Vest thanked them for "the thoughtful and thorough nature" of their proposal.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 14, 2002.