By Raina Bedford and Najib Aminy
In this age of globalization, it is not unusual for companies to exploit cheap labor in poor countries for maximum economic gain. What is unusual is that Stony Brook University supports this practice by selling clothing manufactured by companies who employ children as young as fourteen-years old at rates as low as $0.80 per day. From sweatshirts and jackets to pants, the clothes hanging in the University Bookstore, the Seawolves Marketplace and even the newly opened Wang Center are made in countries with questionable regulations.
Companies such as Clairborne, MV Sport, and Van Heusen are all carried by Stony Brook, have their clothing made in countries such as Indonesia, Honduras, and Bangladesh respectively. With the exception of MV Sport, these companies did not provide much information regarding their labor policies. Of the ones that did, including MV Sport and Jones and Mitchell, it was validated that they only allow employees at least fourteen years of age to work. For example, in Jones and Mitchell’s labor code of conduct, it is stated, “Vendors shall not employ any person at an age younger than fifteen (or fourteen, where consistent with International Labor Organization practices for developing countries, the law of the country of manufacture allows such exception).”
Even companies who did adhere to Fair Labor Association guidelines failed to face the reality that the US State Department found these rules to be poorly enforced in many countries. The FLA guidelines sets limits on age, sets standard wages for workers, protects their right to organize and protects them from bonded labor and abuse.
With a sleek business appeal, Van Heusen is one of many questionable companies present at Stony Brook. They manufacture clothes in Bangladesh where the minimum wage for employees in the garment industry is just $0.80 per day according to the US State Department. The US State Department has also reported that child labor remains a significant problem in Bangladesh, with the International Labor Organization reporting an estimated 532,000 children, ages five to seventeen, working in hazardous conditions. An even larger number of children, ages five and up, are forced to work to survive. Based in Honduras and Pakistan, MV Sport products can be seen from jackets to sweatshirts all branded with the Stony Brook University logo. In Honduras, the US State Department found that 350,000 children between the ages of five and seventeen were forced to work in order to survive in 2007. Although the government in Honduras requires that children younger than fourteen have a working permit in order to work, the US State Department found that often children would purchase forged documents to circumvent government oversight.
In Pakistan, the national monthly wage is $41 per month, which comes out to roughly $1.70 per day. Children at the age of fourteen are permitted to work, although the US State Department found that there were few child labor inspectors in most cities and the inspectors often had little training, insufficient resources, and were susceptible to corruption. Inspections were also not mandatory for factories that can be managed with an employment of less than ten people, causing a large number of small fragmented sweatshops to exist in Pakistan. This all culminates in poor enforcement of existing child labor laws and the persistence of child labor in these countries.
Blue Generation is another one of the clothing companies that Stony Brook has entered into business contracts with. Blue Generation has their factories set up in Egypt, where the US State Department found that 2.7 million children work with no minimum wage set for the private sector. The minimum wage for both the private and public sector stands at $33 per month, which equates to about $1.10 a day.
Out of the eleven companies Stony Brook has entered into contracts with, Andrew Rohan is the only company that manufactures their clothes in the United States and has a minimum wage that provides an acceptable standard of living for employees.
Andrew Rohan produces their clothing in the United States where the minimum wage is set at roughly $5.85 per hour, which is far more than what other companies are paying for their labor. This wage produces a better standard of living for employees working at this company relative to companies who export their labor internationally. The United States has strict labor laws with the minimum age for working in the private sector being sixteen years. Enforcement of existing labor laws in the United States is strict with frequent inspections of working places and strict health and safety guidelines.
The second highest wage was found to be in Thailand, where workers are paid $5.73 per day, which is a couple cents more than a worker would make in an hour in the United States for doing the same job. Van Heusen paid its workers the lowest wage out of these companies, operating a factory in Bangladesh where the minimum wage is set at $0.80 per day.
Lauren Sheprow, a media relations officer of Stony Brook University, said that of the clothing companies brandished here on campus, all of them were in agreement with a licensing group that followed the FLA rules and that the university is very concerned with sweatshop conditions. Sheprow added that all royalties from any purchase go directly to the University, such as scholarships.
Students were generally aware of the tendency of businesses to export their labor because it’s cheaper, but were surprised to find out that Stony Brook supported this practice. Amanda Cohen, a freshman from Oceanside, NY, was angry that Stony Brook didn’t support socially responsible companies, “I didn’t know that child laborers were making our clothing and I think it’s horrible. I feel that Stony Brook should invest in companies that are more environmentally and socially responsible.” Students were also upset that prices for merchandise remained so high, even though the clothing was manufactured for such a low cost. “It’s 40 bucks for a hoodie that was probably made for five cents. It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe a university would exploit people like that,” said Glenn Werneburg, a sophomore from Hicksville, New York.
A representative from Co-op America, a group that promotes environmentally and socially friendly businesses, was surprised to find that none of the socially responsible businesses on their list were sold by Stony Brook University. Although Lauren Sheprow says that the clothing companies sold on campus are in accordance with FLA regulations, evidence has proven that it is difficult to regulate the factories in many of the countries where Stony Brook merchandise is manufactured.
Behind each Stony Brook logo, shirt or sweater lies a tag, a reminder of the effects of unchecked economic manipulation on the impoverished workers of the world.