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UCSC Sweatshop Campaign

Despite the fact that the UC Code of Conduct commits suppliers of university merchandise to disclose the location of their (and their contractors’) factories, they often fail.
The Race to the Bottom: (in a nutshell)

The many corporations that sell products to US consumers compete with each other to produce clothes as cheaply as possible. This means that each attempts to pay workers as little as possible, and to cut spending on decent working conditions (such as protective equipment) and the reduction of pollution created by their factories. In country after country, stories of verbal, physical and sexual abuse are hauntingly similar.

The brands we recognize contract with other companies to produce their clothes. These “sub-contractors? own factories designed to be packed up and moved. A “Race to the Bottom? occurs as sub-contractors cut costs by leaving countries with moderate environmental laws and minimum wage requirements and setting up shop in other countries where they can pay even less and pollute even more.

UC Sweat Free!

In January 2000, campaigns by student groups organizing teach-ins, “fashion shows,? guerilla theater, and petitions at UCB, UCSC, UCSD, and UCLA ended in success when the UC office of the President (UCOP) adopted a “Code of Conduct.? The document commits companies that make products bearing the logos of any of the UC campuses to (among other requirements)
  • not use child labor or forced labor,
  • guarantee that workers not have to work more than 60 hours per week, with at least 1 day off.
  • guarantee the freedom of their workers to form and join a union without reprisal,
  • guarantee that workers not face any kind of harassment, abuse, or discrimination. (including that based on pregnancy)
The UC actions were a part of a wave of sit-ins organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) that swept the country around this time and forced dozens of other university administrations to adopt similar policies. Universities were required to submit pay dues to an independent organization, the Workers’ Rights Consortium, that would be responsible for monitoring factories to ensure that they were indeed meeting the requirements laid out in universities’ Codes of Conduct.

The Current Situation:

Despite the fact that the UC Code of Conduct commits suppliers of university merchandise to disclose the location of their (and their contractors’) factories, they often fail. The 40-odd companies that produce goods bearing the UCSC trademark do not reveal where these goods are produced. This means that it is impossible for the Workers’ Rights Consortium to verify that UCSC merchandise is not made in sweatshop conditions. It is well documented that the global apparel industry is structurally flawed: corporations compete with each other to offer jobs that pay as little as possible and that offer no protection or security. In this context, can we really accept the good word of companies such as Jansport that stand to make millions of dollars off of the abuse of their workers’ human rights?

Although the Code of Conduct is definitely a step in the right direction, it can only be effective if it is properly enforced. Without disclosure of the locations of the factories, students have won nothing but a convenient public relations exercise for the bookstore and its suppliers.

Next Steps:

Local:

1. It must become a priority for the UCSC administration, particularly Licensing Director and Manager of the Baytree Bookstore Bob McCampbell, to force companies that make UCSC merchandise to comply with the Code of Conduct by disclosing the exact locations of the factories in which UCSC apparel is made. Hopefully students and staff will be able to cooperate in order to create this change, if not, then an escalation of tactics will become necessary.

2. UCSC is poised to purchase uniforms for all of the service workers on campus. Whether or not these thousands of dollars in new uniforms will come from a sweatshop will depend on whether of not students can demonstrate that ethical purchasing is a priority.

UC-wide:

1. A student group at UCB and the Student Environmental Center here at UCSC are working to expand the Code of Conduct to include not just goods bearing a UC campus logo, but all goods purchased by the University. This would bring under scrutiny the CocaCola company, whose involvement with the murder of union activists in Colombia is becoming more and more widely known. (see www.killercoke.org for more info) The SEC’s “green purchasing? campaign would impact many areas, most notably food purchasing.

2. We need to think through possible institutional changes that would make either Code of Conduct enforcement or some other long-term solution possible.

Get Involved!

The group that is working on the UC Sweat-Free campaign here on campus, Comercio Justo, meets at 5pm Wednesdays in the Porter Fireside Lounge. If you can’t make this meeting time, or would like to keep up with what’s going on, consider joining their email list by sending a blank email to comercio_justo-subscribe (at) yahoogroups.com, or e-mail dylan4awareness (at) yahoo.com.
 
 


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