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Saving the World 101 "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." - Thomas Paine

Fighting against Sweatshops

USA | Wednesday, 10 October 2007 | Views [423]

Arguably one of the most important things I will ever work on, I have been doing this semester. Working with the international organization United Students Against Sweatshops, I have been working with the group Progressive Student Union to get our university to stop supporting sweatshop labor. Here's the basic gist:

The university sells the rights to use our logo on collegiate apparel. This means we, as a university, should (theoretically, at least) have the right to determine under what conditions our clothing is made. What the USAS Sweatfree Campaign attempts to do is force the University's hand and regulate the companies who provide our products. Sometimes this is not easy - it's Nike we're talking about, people - and many university presidents have been very hostile around the country at the very idea of listening to students.

United Students Against Sweatshops fights for schools to sign on to the Worker's Rights Consortium (WRC) which attempts to watch over factories and make sure no human rights abuses are being committed. It offers protection to workers to come forward, and responds to complaints as soon as physically possible. However, it is an imperfect system. When one factory is found to have committed human rights abuses, it is all too easy for a subcontractor to cut its contract with that factory after it starts pulling its act together (thereby costing the subcontractor more money) and go to another factory that does not deal with the pesky things like wages that enable a worker to support themselves and their family. Therefore, while the WRC is an admirable system, it cannot solve all the problems in the apparel industry.

That is where the Designated Supplier's Program (DSP) comes in. Factories can apply to become a DSP affiliated factory, which means it will receive orders from universities who are, in turn, affiliated with the DSP themselves. Proper wages, labor unions, and safe working conditions are what a factory must provide in order to be considered a DSP school. Is that too hard?

This is what the Progressive Student Union was fighting for when it held its first anti-sweatshop demonstration October 3, 2007. WSU was not affiliated with the WRC at the time, which is a necessary precursor to signing on to the DSP. And so, with the theme "I'd rather go naked than wear sweatshop clothing," around 15 members of the PSU stood on the campus mall for four hours holding signs, answering questions and handing out information.

That Friday, October 5th, I received a call from the Office of the President of the University. I was told that we would be welcome at the ceremony the following Wednesday, to celebrate Washington State's affiliation with the WRC and the Fair Labor Association. (A group supposed to do the same thing as the WRC, only paid for by the apparel industry themselves. Because that makes complete sense.)

And so, one week after our official start of the campaign and two months after starting to organize, our school affiliated with the Worker's Rights Consortium. We aren't done yet, signing on to the DSP is still an important thing we need to accomplish.

Geoff (Ringwald) and myself will be on a committee of seven people to decide whether or not our school will sign on to the DSP. There will be two more students from the government, and three members of the administration. One from Athletics, and two others from various parts of the administration. None will be reporting directly to the office of the President, and students will have the majority.

The fight for sweatfree clothing is not over, by any means. We are working on getting the school government and Greek community to start buying all their apparel through sweat-free factories (yes, they exist) and will be organizing a sweat-free Fashion Show for the general student body, so that they might better see where their Gap clothing is coming from. Knowing the alternative is out there makes it harder for people to justify their shopping at Macy's.

We aren't done yet. But hey, it's a start. And not too shabby for three months of work.

Newspaper interviews: around 10.

Radio interviews: 2

Tags: Shopping

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