Universities must stop sweat shops

With baseball season swinging into full gear, take a look at the “made in” label inside the baseball caps many of us wear.

You may be surprised to learn that the cap was made under inhumane working conditions in places like the Dominican Republic.

Sweatshop workers stitch logos into caps for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League.

Many college caps are made there, too.

One company, BJ’B, for example, manufactures caps for the universities of North Carolina, Missouri, Connecticut, Arizona, Louisiana State, Cornell, Northwestern, Penn State, Tulane and Purdue.

College logo apparel sales are estimated at $2.5 billion annually, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The industry is a classic profit pyramid, with workers constituting the exploited bottom rung.

Here’s how it works: A university licenses its name and logo to American apparel distributors, such as Nike, Starter, Champion and Reebok, and earns about $1.50 per cap. BJ’B pays the worker 8 cents per cap.

At that pay rate, a worker takes home $40 for a typical 56-hour workweek, as calculated by UNITE, an anti-sweatshop lobbying group.

The big winners are BJ’B’s corporate parent, Yoopong Group in South Korea, one of the largest cap producers in the world, and the American corporations that act as middlemen.

Yoopong makes 14.4 million caps in the Dominican Republic alone.

The Spanish name for the industrial areas is “zona franca.”

It translates into “industrial free-trade zone,” which means companies located there are exempt from import fees and income taxes.

Working conditions at many of the 500 foreign-owned factories throughout the country are reprehensible.

Health and safety hazards, arbitrary disciplining by ruthless managers, women being forced to take pregnancy tests prior to being hired, forced overtime, wage discrimination against women, no safe drinking water, no benefits, no overtime or productivity incentives are commonplace.

Fortunately, many college students have recognized the need to act against sweatshops.

United Students Against Sweatshops has mobilized almost 200 university groups to compel their schools to take action.

One of the demands is a unified code to regulate and monitor the factories.

So far Duke, Brown and Notre Dame are among the universities that have adopted a version of the Code of Conduct for University Trademark Licensees, which makes the manufacturer subject to labor and human-rights standards.

The code requires public disclosure of factory addresses, living wages, independent monitoring, freedom to unionize, safe working conditions, no forced labor, no child labor, women’s rights and independent monitoring.

American universities and professional sports leagues ought to step up to the plate and demand decent pay and better working conditions for the people who make our caps.