ASUCI Responds to Forced Labor Concerns
The Associated Students of UCI passed the ASUCI Vendor Fair Anti Forced Labor referendum (R39-26) to require vendors who sell goods at the ASUCI vendor fair to comply with UC policy regarding substandard labor conditions.
The referendum is a response to concerns brought forth by Andrew Tonkovich, a UCI lecturer who is also the president of the University Council American Federation of Teachers local 2226.
‘I had actually learned of the problem from my Writing 39C students who did research on so-called ‘sweatshop’ labor,’ Tonkovich said.
The original letter that Tonkovich wrote on Oct. 11 requested that ASUCI examine its policies in regard to sweatshop labor.
‘I am writing to ask the [ASUCI] Council to examine its vendor leasing policies, establish a retail sales ethics standard similar to the other UCs and to ask the council to consider taking action to cease its leasing agreements with vendors who market so-called ‘sweatshop’ products at those occasional stalls erected in the vicinity of the bookstore and library,’ Tonkovich wrote to ASUCI.
The possibility that sweatshop products were sold at the ASUCI vendor fairs was not a serious issue for the representatives until ASUCI received the letter from Tonkovich.
‘[Tonkovich’s] students were doing a research project and they found that some of the vendors here could have possibly been using forced labor [products],’ said Lisha Maddox, ASUCI’s humanities representative who co-authored the referendum.
Ryan Sanders, ASUCI’s social sciences representative who also co-authored the referendum, was quick to establish that there is currently no evidence to support a claim that a vendor has sold items made from forced labor wares at the vendor fair.
‘We found no actual evidence of it, but [Tonkovich] raised the concern of the potential use of forced labor,’ Sanders said. ‘[ASUCI] never had any serious discussion regarding it.’
The Anti-Forced Labor Initiative allows ASUCI to enforce the labor restrictions already required by university policy.
The referendum changes the vendor fair agreements to include a requirement that the vendor does not support or sell forced labor products as defined by the referendum.
‘We wrote somewhat of a referendum for it and we added something into the contract that the vendors sign with the university that says they do not advocate or enforce child labor, or they don’t get clothing from sweatshops,’ Maddox said.
According to the referendum, a vendor may lose its lease for one year if caught selling forced labor products.
‘The one-year decision was made,’ Sanders said, ‘to keep it in line with our standard enforcement. Other standards and stipulations in our vendor agreement were subject to the one-year principle also.’
Although Tonkovich is satisfied ASUCI did respond to the letter with the referendum and the new requirements, Tonkovich believes there is more that ASUCI can do.
‘[R39-26 is] not the way I would have written it. It’s not entirely clear to me what they mean with their terms,’ Tonkovich said.
According to Tonkovich, ASUCI should have included forms of forced or sub-standard labor conditions in the referendum.
‘[The referendum] says something about prison labor or indentured labor. I didn’t ask for those particular terms. I used broader terms, like sweatshop labor,’ Tonkovich said. ‘It doesn’t define the same products or concerns what I try to isolate, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.’
ASUCI believes that the referendum meets the required standard set by the UC.
‘The University of California has a standing policy regarding this, so we basically adapted that policy to be a function of ASUCI,’ Sanders said.
The referendum does enforce ASUCI’s commitment to follow already established university policy regarding forced labor. ASUCI also affirmed its commitment to human rights with the referendum.
‘It wasn’t right what was going on. We shouldn’t advocate child labor, forced labor and sweatshops and we thought that there was a need for [R39-26] for our students and our constituents to understand that we do not support it,’ Maddox said.
Tonkovich believes further investigation is needed to discover the violating vendors.
‘I plan to pursue some modest investigation of vendors and then share results with the ASUCI council,’ Tonkovich said. ‘If I understand the resolution passed, offering evidence or suspicion of likely association with coerced or prison or slave means that vendors would not be sold space in [the] future.’