Saturday, April 19, 2008

Detailed Letter Responding to President Richmond

Background Information:
We have been trying to get the University to sign a "triggered agreement" regarding the Designated Supplier's Proposal for some time now. In other words, we want the University to sign onto a program that will be implemented once a trigger is released. The trigger which we speak of is an approval letter from the U.S. Department of Justice stating that the Designated Supplier's Proposal is not a 'trust,' ie. that the Designated Supplier's Proposal does not break any laws on monopolizing. By having the Department of Justice comment on the Designated Supplier's Proposal, it allows universities to ease fears about the legal issues surrounding the proposal.

As of now, the proposal is waiting to be implemented.

This letter responds to President Richmond's April 7th Letter to Humboldt United Students Against Sweatshops.

Dear President Richmond,

I would like to address your recent response to the Designated Supplier's Proposal. After reflecting on the articles and the suggested public letter you forwarded Humboldt United Students Against Sweatshops, I request that you reconsider the wording of the letter. I feel that, while the intentions of this letter appear to be rational, they do not reflect the best intentions and efforts of this university. This is not to say that your letter was half-hearted. Rather, I feel that I have unique understanding of the Designated Supplier's Proposal and therefore, would like to contribute to your decision.

Before I continue, I would like to state that, whether or not one is susceptible to lawsuits does not equate that one is doing something illegal. Therefore I must ask you, do you think that the Designated Supplier's Proposal is actually a force of monopoly rather than a force for a change in sweatshops? Clearly, it is not to enable universities to monopolize any industry. Therefore, it is very difficult to believe that the Designated Supplier's Proposal could be construed as a trust. Obviously, this does not disregard issues of legal actions, yet it does reflect on the intentions of the DSP.

So, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that legal action cannot be taken against a participant of the Designated Supplier's Proposal. This will, no doubt, always be the case since practically anything can be sued against. However, the degree to which anyone would be inclined to file a lawsuit against a DSP participant, as well as the chances of winning that lawsuit, can improve significantly in favor of the participant. Indeed, this is the realization that many universities are now having.

To speak frankly, the DSP is practically in it's final stage before implementation. So to suggest that the proposal is in the midst of 'developing' would be an inaccurate statement. However, in regards to the status of implementation, on the behest of the Working Group, the Designated Supplier's Proposal will not be implemented until a positive response from the U.S. Department of Justice is returned. This means that until the DSP is legally approved, to not be a trust, participants of the DSP will, essentially, do nothing (aside from having public discussions).

So, I suggest that the University publicly endorses the ideas and principles found in the Designated Supplier's Proposal, join the Working Group of the DSP, and affiliate with the Worker's Rights Consortium. To endorse the principles found in the Designated Supplier's Proposal is to, essentially, commend and support the idea of having a new, systemically different, way of monitoring sweatshops. This is analogous to endorsing efforts to support a campaign to turn universities green. This cannot be construed, in any way, of stating that the University is implementing the DSP. At this point in time, it is not even possible to implement the DSP with the support of the parties involved in the DSP. In addition, the endorsement of the principles of the DSP does not mean that the University is legally bound to implement the DSP if the University does not agree with the final version of the DSP before the process of implementation. This means that the University is not legally bound to implement a program the University feels is unequipped to defend against legal actions.

The fact of the matter is, sweatshop abuse continues. Whether it continues in the production of our University apparel is not certain. Yet, that strikes at the heart of the issue, that one cannot be sure. If one cannot be sure, then the myriad reports, stating continued sweatshop abuse, appears to suggest that our University could be abusing sweatshops. Still, this is not even the greatest concern. Even if our University had the ability to guarantee that HSU apparel is sweatshop-free– the reality that other universities and apparel manufacturers continue to exploit sweatshops, knowingly or not, cannot be denied. As I am sure you are well aware, by simply having a code of conduct, one does not exclude the possibility of abusing sweatshop labor. So, we must have a way to enforce our codes.

The problem with the letter you suggest, regards the fact that it does nothing to end sweatshop labor; it does not suggest any real change in our University, policies or otherwise. Even though you suggest looking at the DSP once it is implemented, it does not support proactive efforts to end the exploitation of sweatshop labor. The suggested letter, implies that there is already a legal issue with simply endorsing principles and joining a discussion to systemically change sweatshop exploitation (ie. the working group). This previous claim is non-sequitur; endorsing ideas and literally, and simply, discussing ideas is fully within the legal rights of the University. Additionally, even if your intentions with this letter are to show that HSU will deeply and thoroughly consider the DSP upon implementation, you cannot guarantee that this will ever happen. This is due to the fact that at some point, you will be leaving your office, and that I, as well as other students involved in HUSAS, will be leaving this university. Let us not pretend that this is not a highly possible scenario.

In the unlikely situation that the University is involved in a lawsuit, before the implementation of the DSP – the stated case against HSU will clearly be frivolous. It is not as if the University will be involved in plans to conspire against another party. Joining the working group involves discussions that are publicly disclosed. Is it not worth suffering an absolutely ridiculous lawsuit in order to help people, to uphold our values? With any bold actions there will be opposition. Do you think Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, or any other notable people did not face risks? Obviously, the University has reputations and the well-being of the students to consider, however the risks involved, at this juncture in time, is simply minute.

The benefits for our University to join the DSP working group, and the DSP, go beyond the fact that HSU is involved with the decision making processes of the DSP. It shows HSU is committed and a truly forward-thinking university to be even involved in programs that address these very real issues. The simple involvement of HSU in the DSP, even if it does not go through with the final implementation, shows that HSU is a part of that discussion, that it is not merely on the sideline as a spectator. This is something that can truly highlight the university when promoting it to prospective students and their parents.

In the end, denying this program a chance is denying the sweatshop workers a chance. There are absolutely no programs other than the DSP with the scope and radical difference that can make effective change. The University cannot sway apparel manufacturers to give HSU the appropriate tools to enforce our codes of conduct. Only with the joint efforts of other universities can HSU guarantee that workers are respected.

I would like to suggest a meeting, where we can hammer out the issues involved in an endorsement letter. I would like to ensure that HSU is not susceptible to lawsuits and that the DSP can get a boost from our University. Beyond all of those, I would like to know that HSU is willing to take risks in order to improve the lives of all the people around the world. You can contact me through the Humboldt United Students Against Sweatshops' e-mail address,

No comments: