On May 22 eleven Stanford University students staged a sit-in in the lobby of president John Hennessy’s office, demanding action on sweatshops. They were asking Hennessy to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a group founded by students and labor rights activists seven years ago to investigate abuses in the collegiate apparel industry, and to sign on to the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a system devised by the WRC to enforce universities’ existing codes of conduct. As wonky as it sounds, the DSP has recently caught fire among students. Earlier this spring sit-ins broke out at the universities of Southern California and Michigan demanding that those schools adopt the DSP. The week before the Stanford action, the University of Washington avoided a sit-in by doing just that.
Sophomore Bethany Woolman, reached by cellphone at the sit-in, said of president Hennessy’s dilemma over the DSP and the WRC, “We know he has the moral integrity to take this step, but we also know he needs the support of students to do it.” Might last year’s $105 million donation to the Stanford Business School by Nike CEO Phil Knight complicate Hennessy’s decision? After all, the University of Oregon backed out of the WRC after threats from multimillion-dollar donor Knight. Stanford’s administrators didn’t return calls in time for this report, but let’s hope they do show some integrity.