Pitt to work with factory monitoring organization after pressure from a student group

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After nearly a year, a University of Pittsburgh student organization has successfully convinced the school to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent organization that monitors factories where university-licensed apparel is manufactured.

Pitt's affiliation with the WRC comes as a major victory for the Pitt chapter of Americans for Informed Democracy, an organization that has struggled to gain traction with university administrators who have consistently said that the school's affiliation with the Fair Labor Association, a separate monitoring organization, was enough.

Members of AIDPitt, labor rights activists and academics have criticized the Fair Labor Association for being funded by the companies it investigates, conducting interviews with workers while factory supervisors are present and overlooking freedom of association violations that keep workers from unionizing.

Pitt is now one of many universities that affiliate with both the FLA and WRC, including Penn State.

"We reviewed all of the materials submitted by the student organization, and conducted additional research on our own," Pitt spokesman John Fedele wrote in an email. "We decided there would be value to the university to have a membership in the Worker Rights Consortium and that would augment our membership with the Fair Labor Association."

Joe Thomas, a founder of AIDPitt, found out about Pitt's affiliation with the WRC Monday night through a friend at United Student Against Sweatshops, a separate organization.

"It was originally disbelief," said Mr. Thomas, a Pitt senior. "I thought maybe they messed up the website. I talked to everyone else and they don't think it's a gaffe -- they think it's for real."

Pitt joins 179 other universities in affiliating with the WRC, including Carlow, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne, according to the WRC website.

The university did not inform the student organization of its affiliation, or acknowledge that it was even seeking it.

Mr. Fedele wrote that the WRC posted Pitt's affiliation on its website before the university had a chance to meet with members of AIDPitt, partly because of a change in leadership in the student organization.

"On the one hand, it's certainly not that case that you can just join an organization and call it a day," said Michael Wooley, an AIDPitt member who said he's excited about Pitt's decision to affiliate, adding "We need to think hard about where we're headed next."

The price tag for affiliating with the WRC will likely be 1 percent of Pitt's licensing fees up to $50,000 annually in dues.

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Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman. First Published August 27, 2013 12:45 AM


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