Letter: EMU needs to raise standards

Dear EMU community,

We, Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education (SEPE), are writing you because of our mutual interest in Eastern Michigan University’s values: integrity, respect, education and relationships. While in many ways EMU exemplifies these traits, SEPE is concerned that they may be absent where school merchandise is concerned. We want to ensure that EMU is exemplifying its cardinal principles in all of its actions by establishing a manufacturers’ code of conduct for official school suppliers.

Integrity can only be the result of wisdom, and wisdom can only be the result of a broad perspective. In order to preserve and enhance our integrity, EMU must foster positive relationships with all our campus clothing vendors and their suppliers. This requires that those who make our clothing are paid living wages and treated with dignity.

This is not only morally right, but is also in keeping with international law. Those who spend their lives making our merchandise are entitled to wages that can clothe and feed themselves and their families. Only with such treatment can a human being flourish. Since we cannot tolerate sweatshop conditions for university employees, we cannot tolerate or contribute to them elsewhere on the planet.

One of our most revered values, respect, includes a respect for our students and the richly varied cultural differences they share with us. Many of EMU’s students come from countries where sweatshops are very common, such as Central American countries, China, Bangladesh and Jordan. These sweatshops often pay their exploited employees less than one-third the cost of living in their hometowns.
Like you, SEPE will not accept such working conditions. Respect for the cultures and countries from which our students come prevent us from overlooking this ethical dilemma. SEPE wishes to help EMU’s vendors and their suppliers make the necessary changes to bring their workplaces into conformity with international human and workers’ rights established by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and signed by almost all countries. We all agree that people everywhere have a fundamental right to safe and healthy employment, fair living wages, and to form unions if they so choose, and to decent living conditions. SEPE is asking you, as well as the rest of the university community, to join us in our efforts to help our fellow humans to gain these fundamental rights.

EMU’s strong commitment to education demands that we educate ourselves about the conditions under which our goods are made, and the context within which the global economy operates. All around the planet our brothers and sisters are struggling to sustain themselves in an inhumane and often illegal sweatshop labor system. Unfortunately, there is a lack of knowledge on this issue. This education gap forces students to potentially make ethically compromised decisions.

By addressing these issues head-on EMU could become a leader in the world of business ethics and have the opportunity to educate the university’s populace on many global issues. Learning about the sweatshops in China, Central America, Bangladesh and elsewhere is truly putting education first. In our diverse and increasingly interconnected world, it is an imperative that students are educated about how to participate in an ethical and global way. SEPE knows that having and enforcing a strong code of conduct for suppliers will create an even greater atmosphere of excellence in education than we already enjoy. Many universities have already adopted a ban on sweatshop labor. Not only must we follow their example, but we must become a leader in promoting human rights and human dignity through our actions.

In keeping with the cardinal value of respect, SEPE, like you, recognizes the importance of forming ethical relationships with everyone in our university community. Naturally, this extends to the potential students in other countries who are barred from education by lack of resources. Their workplaces demand long and demanding hours, leaving time for nothing else. Eastern Michigan University has a commitment to students everywhere, especially potential students, who are most desperately in need of our empathy and solidarity. Only better working conditions, including but not limited to living wages, can open the door to the education they must have and indeed, greatly deserve.

The world in which we live today is an increasingly complicated and globalized one. Therefore, it us up to us to set an example and embody the ideals we all deeply cherish. SEPE calls on you to join our campaign against social and economic injustice, and looks forward to working closely with you to make EMU, and the world at large, a better place for all. To accomplish this we must make and enforce a strict manufacturers’ code of conduct that will protect the dignity of those who make our apparel and supplies. EMU must join the 186 other American universities, including six in Michigan, that have pledged their commitment to the promotion of human dignity and ethical consumerism by joining the Worker Rights Consortium.

Finally, we call on EMU to join the Designated Supplier Program to insure that we are buying apparel that supports the development of human potential, not its destruction. Through these actions we can ensure that Eastern Michigan University is in keeping with its ideals of integrity, respect, education and ethical relationships.

Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education_

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