Student activists at the University of California have achieved a significant victory in restraining the forces of unregulated globalization. UC president Robert Dynes announced in May that the ten-campus system had pledged its “full and enthusiastic engagement” with an antisweatshop policy advocated for the past year by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national coalition.
The so-called Designated Suppliers Program (DSP) commits the UC system, with more than 200,000 students, to purchase much of the clothing bearing UC campus logos only from factories that have been approved by an independent board that evaluates employers’ respect for workers’ rights. Approval will be given to factories that pay a living wage (based on the cost of living in each country), follow adequate labor standards and allow workers to form independent unions or other worker-sponsored organizations. In the first year, at least 25 percent of all UC apparel will come from these designated suppliers, which will also be required to specialize in producing items for colleges and universities. If the program is successful, that figure will increase in future years, according to the agreement.
For the past year, students at dozens of campuses around the country organized hunger strikes, rallies, antisweatshop fashion shows and other protests to demand that their institutions adopt strong policies to police companies that make clothing for the campus market. In the past two months, activists at UC-Berkeley and UC-Riverside engaged in sit-ins that led to arrests to put pressure on president Dynes and the university’s chancellors, who ultimately endorsed the policy. Nineteen colleges and universities–including Duke, Indiana, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Connecticut, Syracuse and Columbia–have already agreed to support the DSP. By joining this group, the University of California–the largest university system in the country–adds considerable momentum to the antisweatshop cause. The ten campuses of the University of California system, taken together, are among the largest purchasers of collegiate apparel to adopt the new system. Last year, UC campuses had more than 1,000 separate licensing agreements with apparel makers, resulting in sales approaching $40 million.
The UC agreement is by far the most important victory for the student antisweatshop movement that began a decade ago at Duke University. Since then, some well-publicized gains have been made, including recognition of employee-run unions in some factories, limits on mandatory and unpaid overtime, and a decline in sexual harassment of female employees.
Seven years ago, for example, Nike refused student demands to disclose the names and addresses of its factories engaged in producing college clothing, preventing human rights groups from monitoring workplace conditions. Nike claimed that these were business secrets that, if made public, would put the company at a competitive disadvantage. In 2004, bowing to student pressure, Nike voluntarily published the names and addresses of all its factories, not just those catering to the college market–a major reversal of policy. With the help of outside consultants, Nike also examined the working and environmental conditions in 569 factories around the world that produce the company’s apparel, equipment and footwear.