Duke bars its licensees from using sweatshop labor New code sets standards for working conditions

March 08, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

With the Duke basketball team riding high and consumers snapping up apparel bearing the university's name, Duke University plans to announce a far-reaching code of conduct tomorrow to ensure that products bearing its name are not made in sweatshops.

Duke students and anti-sweatshop groups applauded the code because it goes further than any other university code and will likely be copied by other colleges. Duke has one of the most popular names on sports gear and has 700 licensees that make apparel at hundreds of plants in the United States and in more than 10 other countries.

Duke's code bars licensees from using forced or child labor and requires them to maintain a safe workplace, pay at least the minimum wage and recognize the right to form unions. Then, in a move that makes it the first university to adopt a tough enforcement mechanism, Duke's code requires licensees to identify all factories making products with Duke's name and to allow unimpeded visits by independent monitors.

"We're doing it because it's the right thing to do," said Jim Wilkerson, Duke's director of trademark licensing. "We cannot tolerate having the sweat and tears of abused and exploited workers mixed with the fabric of the products which bear our marks."

University officials said products bearing Duke's name include basketball shirts, T-shirts, sweat shirts, jackets, gym bags, bumper stickers and even software and hand-held electronic games. About $20 million worth of goods carrying the Duke name are sold every year.

In shaping its new policy, Duke built on codes adopted by the University of Notre Dame, Nike and the National Basketball Association and on guidelines adopted by President Clinton's Apparel Industry Partnership, a group of companies, unions and human-rights organizations that is seeking to combat sweatshops.

"This is ground-breaking and very exciting," said Ginny Coughlin, director of the anti-sweatshop campaign for the United States' largest apparel union, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. "This code of conduct is going to mean real changes, real improvements in the lives of garment workers. It means that a major institution in our society, a university with all of its moral and political weight, is putting economic pressure on companies to produce apparel under decent conditions."

Wilkerson said he began thinking about developing the code last May after he read news reports about conditions at some sweatshops.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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