Cornell University

April 3 2012

Mobilizing Pressure

Student roles in changing work practices discussed by Freeman

Encouraging students to continue speaking up about Cornell University's relationship with the Fair Labor Association, Bennett Freeman spoke Monday at ILR about the media firestorm surrounding Apple Inc. supplier factories in China.

Cornell is affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit labor rights monitoring organization. Some student activists have criticized it as being too close to corporations.

Freeman, is senior vice president of sustainability research and policy for Calvert Investments, which has assets of about $13 billion.

After media reports of labor abuses, Apple engaged the Fair Labor Association to audit conditions in its Foxconn supply chain factories.

A Fair Labor Association audit released Thursday documented dozens of legal, regulatory and human rights violations in Foxconn facilities making iPhones, iPads and other Apple products.

Some workers reported 60-hour work weeks and 11-day work stretches. Forty-three percent said they had experienced or witnessed factory accidents, according to The New York Times.  

"I think you are doing absolutely the right thing to put this before the university," he said in Ives Hall's Doherty Lounge. "Keep talking. Keep the pressure on to make the FLA do a good job."

Freeman also said Cornell should remain affiliated with the Fair Labor Association and "stay at the table to push it in the right direction."

Student activists, Freeman said, can play a powerful role in mobilizing pressure on investors to make sure that Apple and Foxconn follow through on promises to improve working conditions.

Thirty students and faculty members attended the discussion.

At Calvert, based in Bethesda, Md., Freeman leads social, environmental and governance re-search, analysis, shareholder advocacy and public policy work.