This afternoon, students at University of Southern California began occupying their administration's offices. The action is part of a likely wave of sit-ins on the nation's campuses, as students are escalating a campaign for basic human rights for the workers, mostly young women, who make clothing bearing school logos. Seven years ago, a similar wave helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the oversight group that students established, in cooperation with workers' advocates here and in the developing world, as an alternative to monitors controlled by the apparel industry. (I covered those protests for the Nation, and later in a book.)
Students at USC have been trying for eight years to get their school to affiliate with the WRC. 168 colleges and universities have done this, making USC quite a holdout on this issue. The USC students are also demanding that their university adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a sensible system established by the Worker Rights Consortium to determine that collegiate clothing is made under decent conditions. The USC president, Steven Sample, has refused to meet with the students. "As students we learn in the classroom about global problems," says junior Carlo Catteneo Adorno. "It's disappointing that President Sample refuses to tackle such problems in the real world."
Students at University of Michigan -- my alma mater, so I'm proud of them-- occupied their president's office last week, also demanding that the University adopt the DSP. The students began this protest after several years of attempted "dialogue" with the administration on this issue. Instead of taking action to ensure that U-M clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, President Mary Sue Coleman had the students arrested and forcibly removed from the building. Being a huge football school, U-M is obviously a significant player in the collegiate clothing industry, and it would make a big difference if its administration would finally embrace the DSP.
Several more sit-ins on this issue are expected before the end of the school year, according to Zack Knorr of United Students Against Sweatshops, unless the universities in question decide to avoid the bad publicity by doing the right thing.