Anti-sweatshop group seeks full disclosure
Marion Traub-Werner, a University of North Carolina-based activist with United Students Against Sweatshops came through Gainesville on a Florida speaking tour, which also included Florida State University and Rollins College. Traub-Werner came to UF September 23rd at the invitation of Dr. Bob Ziegler of the UF history department and spoke to over 30 activists from campus, including representatives from Student Peace Action. She also was on the Chris Wells program on WSKY from 3-5 p.m. that day.
Her message was pretty straightforward:
1) That the clothing manufacturers and their clients at major universities make gobs of money, and clear profit off logo garments
2) that the companies who employ the overworked and underpaid laborers, mostly young Central American women ages 14-17, are looking for moral cover with a bogus apparel industry partnership that the universities sign on to, but which the "Fair Labor Association" lacks any real teeth or even intent to do any serious enforcement of worker rights or living wage standards
3) That the students on those campuses can be a powerful source, maybe the only force, to really make the universities and the manufacturing companies truly do right by the workers that sew the garments, by disclosing what factories are used in the manufacturing of clothes and requiring that a living wage be paid to these workers.
Traub-Werner explained how the "living wage" component of the USAS campaign opens up some interesting dialogue: "The best part about the demand that the first argument that any opponent will give you is, well it is not like the minimum wage paid in the U.S. is a living wage, and then you get to smile and get to say exactly-this is our point, it's not a living wage here, it's not a living wage anywhere," said Traub-Werner, who added that this is why there is a need to have people working for a living wage everywhere.
Responding to a question about the rights of workers to organize, and if that is part of the agenda of USAS, Traub-Werner answered, "Definitely; it is a big part of our agenda."
She said that USAS actively works with unions on the ground in Central America and Indonesia, as that is where unions are doing the most work in this industry. Not only is collective bargaining a part of USAS's code of conduct, but they also have enough communication that when there is an organizing effort, for example in El Salvador, USAS would be able to coordinate a consumer campaign to help the workers gain recognition.
Traub-Werner said what USAS is trying to do is bridge the gap between the consumers and the producers, so there can be some justice for workers in producing countries.
"We're definitely not protectionists, we don't want to tell them to bring it all back home. We've talked to the people in the factories, they need their jobs too. We are just advocating for companies not to exploit their people."
Traub-Werner later described how the sweatshop movement really took off last year when student sit-ins took place at five different colleges; Duke University, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Arizona. She hopes similar action will be started in Florida.
"I would love to see a student anti-sweatshop campaign started at UF, I know the folks at FSU were pretty enthusiastic as well. It is definitely a really good time to do it, we're on a serious upswing and spreading to a lot of universities."
With the student sit-ins at five universities demanding public disclosure of factory sites and living wage for workers, and other direct actions that students did at Brown University and the University of Michigan and others, Traub-Werner said that 15 schools have given full disclosure commitments. This means that all these schools have said that they are going to require companies to disclose publicly where they make their items. Most schools that have agreed have set this standard to start January 1st, 2000.
Traub-Werner said that once a few schools enforce this policy it is like an avalanche, because a lot of licenses are shared. Between UW, UNC, Duke, Georgetown and Boston College, 160 licenses are shared.
"These schools are working toward full disclosure and the more universities that require it, the easier it will be for everyone else," she said.
Those wishing to begin working on this issue to create a pressure group at UF for full disclosure, can attend a meeting on Tuesday, October 19th at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave. Perhaps a joint campaign with FSU can culminate with a joint demonstration at the UF-FSU football game on November 19th at Ben Hill Griffith Stadium in Gainesville.
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