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Our university tour – Day 3 (Penn State)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Our final stop was Penn State University, located deep in the heart of Pennsylvania, in the lovely town of State College. After a harrowing plane ride in, our very busy and productive day began with a student meeting, where questions were raised on two of the more challenging current labor rights cases, the <a href="BJ&B and Hermosa cases. In response, I offered some background and context for both of these cases to help students better understand what transpired at these factories.

One of the key issues that many people don’t fully understand is that the 2005 expiration of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement and the subsequent end of the quota system means that many garment factories are located in countries that have lost their set market advantage, even as they continue to lack other intrinsic competitive attributes. As a result, there is a high risk that many factories in this region of the world will be forced to close, move or both. Indeed, more than 50,000 apparel workers in this area have lost their jobs in the last two years as a result of these changes. These shifts in production are being driven by fundamental economic principles and not by a desire to bust unions or escape compliance. That doesn’t mean that we as labor and human rights advocates shouldn’t stand up to do as much as we can for these workers, particularly to see that code and other legal provisions along with other individual rights are respected.

I also was pleased to engage with some of the PSU students about the DSP (or Designated Supplier Program) presented by the WRC. As we have said consistently, I have great concerns about the practicability of this proposal. Many of these questions, as well as other issues I addressed during my tour, are discussed here.
 
As our university tour came to an end, and I flew from the States to Shanghai, China to participate in an FLA 3.0 Foundation Course, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the idealism and activism of so many students and realize how important it is to preserve that idealism while channelling it to help energize a force for making a pragmatic, positive difference in the world.
 
 
Auret van Heerden

 

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