‘UConn has established itself as one of the premier institutions in the country in the area of human rights and ethical sourcing’
UConn is receiving global attention for its commitment to ethical supply chain management, licensing, and branding as the winner of the 2021 International Collegiate Licensing Association Service Award.
In addition to sourcing all face masks provided to UConn employees and students from a living-wage factory (Alta Gracia Apparel in the Dominican Republic) during the COVID-19 pandemic, UConn has innovated in other ways to build capacity, strengthen institutional commitment, and raise the profile of ethical sourcing practices with all its licensing and branding partners.
“During a challenging year, they found a way to give back and serve,” ICLA President Nikki Goodenow said recently when announcing the award, with UConn will share with one of its vendors, Tennessee-based Logo Brands.
UConn’s commitment starts at the top with its President’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, which the award notes sets the framework for ethical engagement. It extends through the University’s Vendor Code of Conduct, which lays out key terms of business engagement.
In addition, UConn has developed a broad range of programs and opportunities for teaching, research, and public engagement channeled through its Business and Human Rights Initiative (BHRI), a joint endeavor between the Human Rights Institute’s Dodd Impact and the UConn School of Business that extends opportunities for learning and policy dialogue beyond the classroom and into boardrooms and the public arena.
“Part of the ‘way that UConn does business’ is to educate in this manner,” the ICLA Service Award committee noted in selecting the University for the 2021 award.
“UConn has established itself as one of the premier institutions in the country in the area of human rights and ethical sourcing … few universities approach human rights like UConn, especially in licensed goods supply chains, with stakeholder engagement and the creation of practical solutions and incentives for the university and its licensees,” the committee said.
“This is especially true in a year that saw the consequences of COVID-19 have unprecedented negative impact on supply chains around the world, and UConn has stepped up to fight for the workers making its collegiate goods.”
As part of its efforts to raise the bar on ethical licensing, UConn sets a framework for continuous improvement, as noted in the award.
All internal apparel and promo product vendors are required to affiliate with the Fair Labor Association and will be required to use FLA-affiliated suppliers beginning in January 2022. This will provide UConn with the most stringent internal supplier guidelines for apparel and promo product giveaways in the country.
UConn is also preparing to work with the FLA on a Living Wage Pilot for 2021-22 in which multiple licensees and retailers will work to create its UConn product in different countries for the fall 2022 and pay workers a living wage – the first school in the U.S. to test this plan at retail.
The momentum around business and human rights at UConn is anchored in practice-based learning and research, with UConn staff and faculty playing key leadership roles nationally in the business and human rights space.
For instance, Kyle Muncy, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development, serves on the board of the Workers’ Rights Consortium. BHRI Director Stephen Park and Dodd Human Rights Impact Director Glenn Mitoma have integrated graduate student researchers into pilot projects with the Collegiate Licensing Corporation aimed at building supply chain capacity on ethical sourcing and human rights principles.
“For the past 25 years, UConn has been showing leadership and commitment to global human rights through scholarship, education and practice – from Dodd Impact in the Human Rights Institute to the President’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility (PCCSR) chaired by Kyle Muncy,” President Thomas Katsouleas says.
“This award is a nice reflection of how staff as well as faculty and students enhance the national reputation and values of UConn,” he says.
UConn’s nomination for this year’s ICLA award was supported by several entities and organizations, including the Washington, D.C.-based Worker Rights Consortium, which said that through Muncy’s work, UConn is often the first to respond when the consortium identifies serious workers’ rights violations at supplier factories.
“There are garment workers all over the world whose lives are better because of (Muncy’s) personal efforts and the institutional efforts of UConn,” says Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.
The University also displays its commitment to living-wage and workers’ well-being by supporting suppliers who employ those principles, such as recently drawing attention to Alta Gracia’s financial difficulties and urging from university communities, students and others along the supply chain to show solidarity with the company.
Supporters and the awards committee also noted that UConn brings an interdisciplinary approach to the issues, integrating the business and academic aspects of workers’ rights in its licensing practices and across many areas of the curriculum and in service.
BHRI-affiliated faculty members at UConn research critical issues, such as Shareen Hertel’s work on stakeholder engagement; Molly Land’s studies of new technologies and intellectual property rights; Rachel Chambers’ research in the areas of slave labor and supply chain transparency; and Mike Rubin’s work examining human rights in the context of armed conflict.
Former students also play key roles on capacity building and corporate governance in organizations including the Fair Labor Association and the State of Connecticut Treasurer’s Office.
“The University of Connecticut’s substantial commitment to corporate responsibility, ethical sourcing and human rights is not only reflected in their licensing strategy, but also has been an integral part of their industry engagement as they have made a concerted effort to make educational opportunities related to these topics more accessible and approachable to the entire collegiate industry,” says Casey Shillito, director of corporate responsibility for the Collegiate Licensing Co.
As the ICLA award emphasizes, elevating the ethics of internal purchasing has given UConn a powerful tool for embedding “the values of their university and a vehicle for demonstration in the wider community” and the BHRI offers a framework for ongoing engagement and learning.