2009-03-03 Students represent School at a forum titled “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Cutting Edge of Business.”

On January 22, Dean Salome Raheim hosted a luncheon to thank students who had represented the School of Social Work at a forum titled “Corporate Social Responsibility: The Cutting Edge of Business.” The forum was organized by President Michael Hogan’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, which is chaired by Professor Waldo Klein. Professor Harriette Johnson is also an active participant with the committee. The Institute for Political Social Work and the School of Social Work itself were co-sponsors of the event. The students reported a very positive experience at the forum and a heightened awareness of their individual role in advancing worker rights around the globe.

UConn has been among the most active schools in the nation in seeking to influence manufactures toward fair labor standards and a living wage for employees by leveraging the value of its name and symbols on logo college apparel (Go Huskies!) as well as its role as an academic institution with an ongoing commitment to human rights. Working through two international monitoring organizations – the Worker’s Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association – as well as the Collegiate Licensing Corporation (CLC), universities including UConn have the power to withhold manufacturers’ right to use any of the copyrighted names and symbols that represent the face of the university to the public. While collegiate apparel represents a small portion of the total apparel industry, it is a highly visible and thus, influential segment of that industry.

In seeking students to represent the School’s participation in the forum, volunteers were initially sought. An overwhelming response of 65 students demonstrated the interest and commitment of our student body to these human rights ideals. Because space was limited and available seats at the forum were allocated to schools and programs within the university, only 13 students from Social Work could be appointed. These students – Greg Mirhej , Deanna Clark , Shante’ Powers , David Dal Zin , Willona Amoakoh , Arka Mikel , Nilda Fernandez , Celaura Estrada , Alejandro Pedreira , Shirley Watson , Caryn Lacedonia, Kate Parker, Vincent McMahon – reflected the method concentrations as well as a range of other diverse interests and characteristics common to our school. They were among the total of 80 students from across the university who participated in the forum on the main campus in Storrs.

The forum itself featured a keynote address by Joe Bozich, the CEO of Knight’s Apparel, one of the two largest collegiate apparel corporations in the world. In his remarks, Mr. Bozich described his plans for opening a new factory in the Dominican Republic that will provide a verified living wage to workers which will be approximately a three-fold increase over the current prevailing wage for workers in the industry. The demonstration of such a commitment by an industry leader is groundbreaking news. Since sharing his plan with the UConn community at the forum, Mr. Bozich and Knight’s Apparel have made the public announcement of the “Above and Beyond” initiative.

Following the keynote address, each student participated in two small group discussions with facilitators who were expert with respect to various corporate social responsibility initiatives. These facilitators represented Nike, Counter-Sourcing , Flavours of Life, 10,000 Villages, the CLC, Emma Gardner Design and others. The forum closed with a reception during which students were able to continue the dialogues stimulated by the afternoon’s program.

Students who are interested in issues of corporate social responsibility are welcome to attend meetings of the President’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility held on the main campus. There is also an existing student organization on the main campus – the Association for Corporate Social Responsibility – that would welcome participation by students from the School of Social Work. For additional information on either of these opportunities, contact Professor Klein. Finally, if there is interest in initiating student activity within the School of Social Work around issues of corporate social responsibility interested students should contact Milagros Marrero-Johnson, Professor Harriette Johnson or Professor Klein.