This morning, eleven Stanford University students began occupying the lobby of their president’s office demanding humane conditions for the workers who make clothes and hats bearing their school logo. Specifically, the student activists are asking President John Hennessy to take a constructive role in fighting sweatshops by joining the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) by the end of today (if you’re reading this on the East Coast, note that he still has a few hours). The WRC was founded by students and labor rights seven years ago as an alternative to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a far more industry-influenced monitoring group; the WRC, which has 169 collegiate members, has succeeded in improving conditions for some workers, and many observers agree that the competition has improved the FLA. "We know President Hennessy has the moral integrity to take this step," said Bethany Woolman, a sophomore who was occupying the presidential lobby. "But we know he needs the support of students to do it."
A rally of about 100 students assembled outside the building to support the sit-in, addressed by a woman who’d worked in a sweatshop in Saipan (a U.S. territory where garment industry abuses are egregious). The Stanford students also want their university to sign onto the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a system devised by the WRC for better protecting garment workers’ rights, and enforcing universities’ existing codes of conduct. As wonky as it sounds, the DSP’s practical approach has caught fire among students. Last week, the University of Washington avoided a sit-in by signing on to the DSP. I recently reported on sit-ins over this issue at University of Southern California and the University of Michigan.
This is the Stanford’s second sit-in over labor rights this spring; in April, students went on a hunger strike demanding that Stanford’s living wage policy cover more campus workers. The administration met most of their demands but has been remarkably unresponsive on the sweatshop issue. Might last year’s $105 million donation to the Stanford Business School by Nike CEO Phil Knight be complicating Hennessy’s decision just a wee bit? (Nike is a major manufacturer of collegiate apparel and Knight is a dogged opponent of anti-sweatshop reformers.) It wouldn’t be the first time that Knight-ly generosity has informed university policy; seven years ago, the University of Oregon backed out of the WRC after threats from big donor Phil. Stanford’s administration hasn’t called me back yet, but when they do, I’ll let you know what they have to say about this. Meanwhile, a few cops have joined the party and are expected to arrest the students in a couple hours.