Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hoya: Legal, Moral, and Practical

Here is my first article for the school paper, The Hoya. Published twice a week in print, and continuously online, it has been running sine 1920.  You can see the actual version of the article here. It was a eye-opening experience working on this as my first story; both the ethical questions involved and the shear ease of access I could get, as a freshman, to senior members of the administration.

GU Delays Decision on Adidas Violation

    Nearly five months after Adidas violated the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees, the university has yet to take formal action against the company.
    In an effort to renew awareness about the issue, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee submitted an open letter to University President John J. DeGioia on Friday demanding that the university enforce its code by dissolving its contract with Adidas.
    According to a report from the Worker Rights Consortium, a group that advocates for decent working conditions, Adidas failed to pay severance fees to workers after the PT Kizone plant in Indonesia — which manufactures Georgetown apparel — closed last year.

    At the time of submission, the letter had 172 signatures from graduate students, alumni and members of the Georgetown University Student Association — 40 from a petition posted online and 132 gathered by GSC members in Red Square.
    “Adidas … is in direct violation of the Georgetown University Code of Conduct for Licensees,” read the letter, which was posted on last Monday. “Upon the closing of the factory … Adidas refused to pay the workers their severance, … violating the clause in the Code of Conduct stating that licensees are required to ‘[pay] all applicable back wages, or any portion of them, found due to workers who manufactured the licensed articles.’”
    According to United Students Against Sweatshops, a national student organization that organizes and runs student-labor solidarity campaigns to improve working conditions, Adidas owes $1.8 million in back wages to its workers at the plant.
    “Adidas is trying to avoid paying the money to avoid setting a precedent to pay back wages in the future,” GSC member Julia Hubbell (COL ’15) said.

    Although the university recognizes the validity of the Worker Rights Consortium’s claims, which first arose in January, the university has not taken action on the issue.
    Scheduling difficulties have delayed the university’s decision, according to Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming. The Licensing Oversight Committee, which oversees Georgetown’s contracts with apparel companies, including Adidas, and comprises students and administrators, has been unable to arrange a meeting with all of its members up to this point but plans to convene Oct. 10.
   “The PT Kizone item is already on the agenda,” Fleming said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a recommendation comes out of the meeting.”
   The committee had complained to Adidas about the issue after the report was released, according to LOC member William Skolnik (MSB ’13), but the problem has not been solved.
    “We complained directly to this company and communicated with them,” Skolnik said. “Currently, the situation has not been resolved.”

    Students at other schools that work with Adidas, including Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have also expressed concerns about the apparel company’s labor standards.
    Cornell terminated its contract with Adidas on Sept. 13 because of the company’s failure to pay its workers, according to an article published in Cornell’s in-house weekly newspaper, Cornell Chronicle, on Sept. 17.
    Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents asked a court to determine whether Adidas met its contract, according to an article published on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website on July 13.

    Fleming, however, suggested that cutting all ties is not the only option for Georgetown. “We’re committed to ending sweatshops,” Fleming said. “The question is how best to do that. Is it better to cut our relationship with them or maintain contact and talk them into doing the right thing?”
    Hubbell said that the breach of contract also has moral as well as legal implications. “It’s more than a legal issue. It’s a justice one,” Hubbell said. “As a Jesuit university, we want our interactions with the world to exemplify how Christ would have lived.”
    Another member of GSC, Erin Riordian (COL ’15), echoed Hubbell’s sentiments. “It’s incredibly important for Georgetown University to live up to its Jesuit values, and Georgetown should stand up for the rights of the workers,” she said.

    According to Skolnik, however, how the LOC addresses the issue will depend on a variety of considerations. “As with most decisions, there are trade-offs, and the decision-maker must look at a multitude of factors, such as the economic, practical and ethical implications of policy decisions,” he said.

    But Hubbell said she believes that the moral implications should outweigh all others. “Georgetown can be a leader and take a moral stand and show the world that we have values and we will stand by them,” she said.

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