CSU Sweatshop Investigation Offers More Questions Than Answers

    Colorado State University has indefinitely suspended business operations with a company named in an investigation of sweatshop abuses by an international human rights group.

    Team Golf, a Dallas-based business that specializes in selling licensed collegiate golf accessories, claims it has lost business because of what it says is a flawed investigation conducted by the National Labor Committee, the organization that released a report in November connecting Team Golf to a company that is reported to have operated a Chinese factory in sweatshop conditions.The NLC report found that medallions with the CSU Ram logo, along with other college apparel and crucifixes, were being made in a Chinese factory where workers were forced to work long hours in an unsanitary environment and were paid less than half of China’s minimum wage of 55 cents an hour.

    NLC investigators knew the factory was in some way connected to a Chinese company named Full Start, and later they claimed that the company was found to actually own the factory, as was mentioned in a previous Colorado Confidential report:

    “It turns out that when we named this factory we knew it had some connection to a very big company in China called Full Start,” says Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC. “It wasn’t until we released the report that Full Start admitted that it had owned the factory that we had researched.”

    Team Golf was mentioned in the report as one of the companies shipping merchandise from Full Start, and the NLC suggested that Team Golf would be one route by which university merchandise could make it to the United States. U.S. Customs records found by the NLC also detailed shipments from Full Start to Team Golf.

    David McDevitt, a spokesman for Team Golf, says his company has been unfairly penalized and denies that Team Golf products came from the factory in the investigation. According to McDevitt, his company is required to be proactive about labor abuses and is required to audit factories because of labor agreements the business has with universities across the country.

    But while Team Golf’s participation in sweatshop labor is not certain, CSU isn’t taking any chances.

    On Monday, Mark Minor, CSU assistant vice president for public affairs, released the following statement:

    CSU will not and has not to our knowledge done business with anyone who engages in unfair or abusive labor practices. Last month, university officials received a report from a labor watchdog group called the National Labor Committee alleging that Team Golf, a company licensed to manufacture some items with CSU’s name and marks on them, has been doing business with Full Start, which owns a factory in China that engages, the report alleges, in abusive labor practices. Team Golf has denied any involvement with Full Start.

    The university is still investigating the matter and states it will not do business with Team Golf until the investigation is completed at an indefinite time or until the “charges” against Team Golf have been proven false. Until then, Team Golf inventory has been removed from CSU store shelves.

    McDevitt says that CSU’s statement regarding Team Golf and Full Start is false. The company does work with Full Start, according to McDevitt, but that does not mean its merchandise was made in the factory under investigation.

    “I don’t believe that Full Start owns the factory,” McDevitt says, noting that he has been in contact with Full Start representatives.

    The NLC disagrees. A letter obtained by the organization, written by Full Start General Manager Chuck Chiang to the Singer Co., another business implicated in the NLC investigation, shows Full Start taking ownership of the factory investigated for sweatshop abuses.

    “We at Full Start Ltd. are doing everything possible at this time to bring our Junxingye factory in compliance with Chinese labor laws,” reads the letter, dated Dec. 27, 2007.

    Attempts to reach a Full Start spokesman in Hong Kong were unsuccessful.

    For more information, view Colorado Confidential’s Ram Shackled series, investigating the CSU sweatshop allegations.

    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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.