Student-Worker Solidarity advocated for Barnard College to join the Worker Rights Consortium at the Student Government Association’s Monday meeting.
SWS is a group of Barnard and Columbia students advocating for economic justice and supporting labor and union rights, both on and off campus.
The Worker Rights Consortium—an affiliation of 190 colleges and universities—provides resources for colleges and universities to transition to using sweatshop-free factories when purchasing school apparel. The group also conducts investigations and research into non-compliant factories in order to publicize their working conditions.
Columbia University has been a member of the consortium since 2001.
Eight members of SWS were present at the meeting Monday, including member Meghan Brophy, BC ’20.
Brophy said that SWS started a petition last week to prompt Barnard to join the WRC. Currently, Barnard stocks products manufactured by Anvil, which has been cited by the WRC for poor working conditions.
“[Sweatshop workers are] mostly women workers in the global south who are facing really horrible working conditions, and I don’t think [Barnard] should be a part of that,” she said. “We are hoping that Barnard will affiliate with the WRC very soon.”
Annual membership costs for the WRC are between $1,500 and $50,000, or 1 percent of the total revenue on licensed apparel, whichever is greater. Multiple WRC members stated their belief that this payment would not be a financial burden for Barnard.
SGA Vice President for Finance Evelyn McCorkle, BC ’18, asked what the benefits of joining the consortium would be, as opposed to Barnard developing its own policy with regards to sweatshop labor.
Brophy said that the benefits of Barnard joining the WRC would extend beyond the college, as being a member of the WRC means encouraging other universities to make similar pledges.
“It’s one thing if we all go as individuals and just shop fair trade—Barnard spends a lot of money on apparel, schools have a lot of money and leverage to put pressure on companies to improve working conditions,” Brophy said.
All student groups at Barnard purchase apparel from a list of approved vendors, according to McCorkle. One question that remained unanswered was if these approved vendors were provided by Columbia or Barnard, as this would indicate whether student group apparel is currently in compliance with WRC and Columbia guidelines.
In the meeting, SWS also mentioned that they are looking into allegations that student workers are receiving payment late from the college.
Gabija Kertenyte, BC ’18, said that SWS has been reaching out to legal counsel to see how best to protect and catalog payroll backlog complaints from student workers.
“This year we will be starting to do more … to get back in touch with the campus workers,” Kertenyte said. “We will be doing more research into the late pay issues and other student worker issues.”