April 21, 2011
Photo by Lauren Bradley
Ever stop to wonder where that snazzy Rollins t-shirt you have on came from? In 2008, five Rollins students did. These budding social activists went on to create a short film titled This is My Rollins College T-Shirt, which sought to educate the campus community about where Rollins’ wearables come from and under what conditions they are made. The film was shown during the 2008 Global Peace Film Festival and later accepted for screening at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival’s “Short Film Corner.”
Fast forward a few years and the question begs to be asked, did the film have any impact on College's purchasing practices? Thanks to the Ethical Production Oversight Committee, the issues the film brought to light have formed the foundation of the Ethical Production Code, which was originally created by the Finance and Services committee and designed to help the campus community ensure that products carrying the Rollins brand are produced under conditions that reflect the College’s values.
The Rollins community purchases thousands of Rollins-branded items each year, from the items found in the bookstore to t-shirts purchased for events like Dance Marathon and MLK Day. Most of these purchases are made without questioning who made the products and under what conditions.
In 2009, Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies Lisa Tillmann visited the bookstore to note the apparel companies supplying Rollins wearables. The Finance and Services Committee then divided up the 18 companies Tillmann compiled and conducted research on labor and human rights records. Based on the difficulty in accessing clear, current information, the group determined that only an external research body with the resources to conduct on-site inspections could be relied upon to provide accurate results.
“I take seriously Rollins' mission of global citizenship and responsible leadership,” said Tillmann. “That mission drives the curriculum of my program (CMC) as well as my own teaching, scholarship and activism. To me, the mission of Rollins College called us to adopt and implement the Ethical Production Code.”
Since the Ethical Production Oversight Committee was formed, Rollins has joined the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an investigative body employed by nearly 200 colleges and universities. The committee, which began meeting last fall, has been charged with reviewing WRC reports, educating the campus community and spotlighting firms that engage in ethical practices.
“Several student and staff groups on campus do in fact use a local vendor that advertises itself as being environmentally/ecologically friendly. So I don't want to say that no one thinks about these issues,” said Assistant Professor of Economics Tonia Warnecke, who chairs the Ethical Production Oversight Committee. “But even assuming that it is ecologically friendly, the fact remains that environmentally friendly merchandise is not necessarily produced under ethical conditions for workers. This is why we are trying to use an outside body to help us figure out which vendors reflect both our environmental and our human rights expectations.”
A key aspect of the committee’s mission is the commitment that “the College must not purchase Rollins-branded goods from manufacturers that violate labor and/or environmental laws; must facilitate the independent investigation of companies that manufacture Rollins-branded goods; and must seek out, support and promote companies that treat workers and the environment ethically.”
The committee is also working closely with the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership as well as Purchasing to develop a streamlined, cost-effective process for the campus community to purchase or special order ethically produced Rollins branded goods.
Finally, the committee will focus on educating the campus community about ethical production issues and spotlighting firms that engage in ethical practices.
Global citizenship and responsible leadership – they’re not words Rollins throws around arbitrarily. They form the basis of a mission to truly inspire the Rollins community to seriously contemplate each person’s impact on and contribution to the world. “To be global requires us to think broadly about how our actions and inactions affect others and the environment,” Tillmann explains. “Citizenship, the antithesis of spectatorship, demands engagement with and participation in democratic process. Responsible means we cannot remain neutral in the face of inequity and injustice (such as worker exploitation and environmental degradation). And leadership entails listening and learning, then acting.”
Comprised of students, staff and faculty, the committee welcomes participation from the Rollins community. Anyone interested in joining should contact Tonia Warnecke.
By Kristen Manieri
Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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