Real-World Impact


December 20, 2019

Dear Colleague,

The WRC is not known for brevity.

We send you long reports with a lot of detail. We want you to have a full picture of the findings in the cases we investigate, so quick takes are rarely an option.

Today, however, as I offer some reflections on the past year’s work, I am at liberty to be mercifully concise. These are a few examples of the real-world impact of our work:

  • Six thousand workers—in five countries—received $8.3 million in back wages this year through the efforts of the WRC, universities, and workers’ organizations. These workers all made university apparel. Many received as much as a year’s pay, money they legally earned but had never been paid. The benefits to workers will reverberate in the lives of families and communities for years to come. Take away university labor codes and none of these injustices would have been righted.

  • The Bangladesh Safety Accord progressed this year toward completion of its massive program of safety renovations, even in the face of intense hostility from the Bangladeshi government. Before the Accord, workers died by the dozens and hundreds in fires and building collapses. In Accord-covered factories, including those making university apparel, mass fatality disasters are a thing of the past. There are hundreds of workers alive today because of the Accord’s work. Without university labor codes, there would be no Accord.

  • The WRC’s work helped reverse illegal firings of workers this year at collegiate suppliers in five countries. Some were fired for being pregnant. Some for being gay or transgender. Some for speaking out about abusive conditions. Each reinstatement reversed a profound injustice and restored a worker to her livelihood. In every case, it was two factors that made the difference: workers’ courage and universities’ labor codes.

  • The WRC helped create, this year, the first enforceable agreement to protect workers from sexual harassment ever signed by major apparel brands. It provides unprecedented protections to 10,000 workers. While the factories initially covered by the agreement don’t make collegiate apparel, the precedent has huge implications for the prevention of sexual harassment in the collegiate supply chain.

I will stop here. I promised to be brief.

I don’t mean to suggest, by sharing these examples, that university codes have eliminated labor rights violations in collegiate factories. We are far from that goal. The garment industry remains deeply problematic, as a result, first and foremost, of the failure of major brands to pay prices to suppliers commensurate with the cost of producing responsibly.

What I want to emphasize is that university labor codes, backed by the WRC’s independent monitoring, and given life by the advocacy of workers and their organizations, continue to be a potent instrument for tackling labor rights violations and promoting the rule of law. When USAS first asked universities to put labor standards in their licensing contracts, they recognized a great potential that continues to be realized.

I want to conclude by thanking you, and your institution, for your commitment to protecting the human rights of the workers who make university logo apparel.

On behalf of all of us at the WRC, I wish you and your family a peaceful and happy holiday. We look forward to working with you in the new year.