No Prison Labor Link Reported at PZ, PO, HMC, CMC

This is the second installment in a series of investigative pieces focusing on prison-produced furniture and origins of products used by the Claremont Colleges, with the first installment discussing Scripps College's purchase of Washington State Correctional Industries furniture. In this piece, TSL focused on residence hall furniture purchases at the other four colleges.

Following Scripps College president Lara Tiedens’ announcement Oct. 5 that Scripps would reconsider future residence hall furniture purchases from Washington State Correctional Industries, TSL investigations revealed that staff at Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and Pomona College are not aware of any existing links between their current furniture vendors and prison industries or prison labor.

According to representatives at each college, Sustainable Furniture, Inc. is the most widely used for residence hall furniture, with significant purchases made by CMC, HMC, and Pitzer in the past few years. Via a University of California Office of the President (UCOP) contract, Sustainable Furniture, Inc. also furnishes housing facilities at all of the schools in the University of California and Cal State systems.

All of the colleges declined TSL requests to see receipts and invoices from vendor purchases from Sustainable Furniture, Inc. or other companies.

In discussing the variety of factors that go into selecting furniture vendors, each college emphasized factors such as flexibility, price, comfort, durability, sustainability, student feedback, and ability to meet college schedule needs.

Labor origins and fair treatment of workers are not among the key factors in Pomona project committees’ selection of furniture vendors, according to Bob Robinson, Assistant Vice {resident of Facilities and Campus Services at Pomona.

“As far as labor conditions, we don't particularly highlight that in the bid process … A lot of them we've visited their factories, a lot of times there are union shops, sometimes there are not,” Robinson said. “We don't really get into that very much unless we've heard about some sort of issue with a labor unrest or something within the group, then we'll take a look at it. We don't make it a specification in the purchase."

Sustainable Furniture, Inc., based out of Sacramento, Calif., manufactures “new solid hardwood furniture from responsibly harvested forest lands” and stocks “large amounts of reclaimed solid wood panels to be used in conjunction with new components” for both contract furniture and retail office furniture, according to the company’s website.

Danny Deane, owner of Sustainable Furniture, Inc. told TSL that the company has been supplying furniture to the Claremont colleges for over 20 years and is invested in selling furniture for military and university housing.

Pomona and Scripps do not currently purchase furniture from Sustainable Furniture, Inc., though Deane said that the company has reached out to the Facilities and Grounds departments at both colleges about including them in furniture bid considerations.

As a vendor that holds a General Services Administration Federal Supply Schedule (more commonly referred to as a GSA Contract), Sustainable Furniture, Inc. has had a history of selling furniture to the military and working on installations in military facilities with Precision Finishing, another company owned by Deane.

Sustainable Furniture, Inc.’s  published philosophy states that they seek to “reduce our waste stream through waste prevention and the insistence upon recyclability of all new products. We work diligently to protect the environment by reclaiming materials and creating new furniture.”

In an email to TSL, Peter Osborne, sales manager at New England Woodcraft, Inc., an associate of Sustainable Furniture, Inc., wrote that the company “suppl[ies] parts and finished goods to SFI” and “work[s] with them as a selling agent in the California higher education market and handle production on some of their larger projects.”

Osborne wrote that while New England Woodcraft, Inc. has bids on contracts to supply parts to various prison system enterprises, they “do not currently have relationships with any of the prison systems.”

HMC has been purchasing items for dorm furniture from Sustainable Furniture, Inc. and classroom and administrative furniture from Tangram Interiors since at least 2013, according to James Hawley, director of Capital Projects at HMC. 

“One of the primary reasons we use Sustainable Furniture is the vendor accepts old wood furniture from other colleges and fashions new wood components out of the recycled material to create new furniture,” Hawley wrote in an email to TSL. “This is in line with our goals of reuse, recycling and reducing cost.”

HMC most recently purchased a significant amount of all types of furnishings, including beds, bookcases, couches, tables, and chairs, from Sustainable Furniture, Inc. for Drinkward Hall in 2015, according to Hawley. Other residence hall furniture purchases have come from common retailers such as Lowes, Costco, Living Spaces and Office Depot.

Pitzer purchased from Sustainable Furniture, Inc. in 2016 for the Mead Hall renovations, and from New England Woodcraft, Inc. in 2012 for East and West Halls and Furniture by Thurston in 2007 for Pitzer, Atherton, and Sanborn Halls (PAS). Starting in 2012, office furniture has been purchased from GMBI and before that, Steelcase, according to Anna Chang, senior director of Communications and Media Relations at Pitzer.

“Vendors are selected following a competitive, confidential bidding and contractual process that evaluates product durability, comfort, life-cycle costs, maintenance, among other features that best address the needs of individual projects,” Chang wrote in an email to TSL.

CMC has purchased furniture from several vendors over the years, including Sustainable Furniture, Herman Miller, Steelcase, Teknion, Ashley Furniture, Living Spaces and Room and Board, Joann Young, director of Media Relations at CMC, wrote in an email to TSL.

Pomona has purchased residence hall, administrative, and classroom furniture from about 11 companies in the past 15 years, with major purchases from Savoy Furniture, Krueger International, Herman Miller, and Salaman Furniture according to Robinson.

“What we like to do is try to purchase things that offer maximum flexibility for the people that are using them because things change over time," Robinson said.