Amid Criticism, CSU Investigates Sweatshop Allegations

    The group Colorado State University has charged with investigating whether Ram merchandise was made in a Chinese sweatshop has been accused of stifling real reform against abusive labor practices.The university will be working with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), said Gary Ozzello, a senior associate of external operations in the CSU athletic department. The FLA, which is based in Washington D.C., will investigate the findings of a report from the National Labor Committee, an international human rights group, that found CSU goods are produced by mostly young female workers forced to toil long hours while being paid less than half of the Chinese minimum wage of 55 cents an hour.

    Some anti-sweatshop activists see the FLA as an industry-led organization that stifles real reform against abusive labor practices. One international group that encourages college and high school students to organize against sweatshop labor, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), describes the FLA’s stand as a “weak code that fails to provide for women’s rights, a living wage, (and) the full public disclosure of factory locations.” The USAS charges that the organization “is more corporate coverup than industry reform.”

    USAS opposes colleges becoming affiliated with the FLA and instead encourages schools to work with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), another independent monitoring organization that activists claim does a better job of finding and exposing sweatshop abuses.

    In 1999, the National Labor Committee issued another report on the sweatshop conditions in an El Salvador factory making Liz Claiborne apparel, where workers were forced to work long periods in a temperature of 100 degrees or more, required to take pregnancy tests, and were paid low wages. At the time,  Liz Claiborne was affiliated with the FLA, and still is today.

    “We will take a look at all these things and be sure we’re doing everything we can as a university,” says Ozzello, when asked about criticisms against the FLA.

    CSU is affiliated with the FLA, which traces its roots to the Apparel Industry Partnership. That group of apparel companies and consumer-advocacy groups was organized by former President Bill Clinton to report on sweatshop issues in 1996, shortly after it was revealed that television actress Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line was being made with child labor. The AIP morphed into the FLA in 1999 and is now composed of affiliates from universities, non-governmental organizations, and members of the apparel industry, including Nike and Reebok.

    The University of Colorado at Boulder is a member of the WRC and is working with the organization to investigate allegations that CU golf merchandise may be connected to sweatshop labor. CU is also a member of the FLA, which university spokesman Bronson Hilliard says is a way for CU to get different perspectives.

    The FLA and WRC did not respond to requests for comment.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at