Duke students campaign against sweatshops, 1997-1999

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
September
1997
to
January
1999
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Durham, North Carolina
Location Description: 
Duke University campus
Goals: 
To have Duke University adopt a code of conduct by which companies that manufactured Duke apparel and merchandise would have to abide. This code of conduct aimed to eliminate the use of sweatshops by requiring companies to: (1) Have a minimum wage requirement for employment, (2) Set wages and benefits, (3) Provide a healthy and safe working environment for its workers, (4) Prohibit harassment, abuse, or forced labor, (5) Recognize employees’ rights to create a union, and (6) Participate in a compliance monitoring program. Those companies that violated these standards would have their contracts terminated.
 

In the fall of 1997, students at Duke University formed the group Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) to push the Duke administration to create and adopt a code of conduct policy that would require the companies that manufactured Duke apparel and merchandise to uphold workers’ rights and eliminate the use of sweatshops. Led by Tico Almeida, a student who had spent the previous summer learning about the conditions of sweatshop workers by interning for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textiles Employees (UNITE), these students attempted to engage in a dialogue with the administration in order to encourage it to adopt an anti-sweatshop purchasing policy.

In September of 1997, members of SAS sent a letter to Duke president Nan Keohane informing him of their intentions. When he did not respond by the end of October, SAS members sent hundreds of emails to the administration demanding that they begin a dialogue. Within a week, President Keohane set up a meeting between administrators and SAS members to discuss the possibility of creating a code of conduct policy.

Negotiations lasted several months. SAS members helped push the administration to create tough standards by threatening to embarrass the university with public protests regarding the unethical business practices of the companies in which Duke invested. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and Jon Rosenblum of the International Labor Rights Fund, both Duke graduates, were also contacted to work with SAS members and helped consult in the negotiations.

In March of 1998, the administration and SAS presented a code of conduct policy that would require Duke-licensed companies to: (1) Have a minimum wage requirement for employment, (2) Set wages and benefits, (3) Provide a healthy and safe working environment for its workers, (4) Prohibit harassment, abuse, or forced labor, (5) Recognize employees’ rights to create a union, and (6) Participate in a compliance monitoring program. Those companies that violated these standards would have their contracts terminated if they did not promptly change their practices.

However, in the fall of 1998, the members of SAS became concerned that the administration would adopt a revised version of the code of conduct policy (it is unclear whether this concern was sparked by a rumor or by inside intelligence). To apply pressure, 21 SAS members staged a sit-in in the lobby of the president’s office on 29 January 1999. Their small protest grew substantially as increasing numbers of fellow Duke students rallied around them throughout the day. In order to pressure the students to end their sit-in, university administrators encouraged the students to present their grievances in the context of another meeting and threatened to call campus security when the students refused to leave. However, no arrests were made, and after 31 hours the sit-in came to an end when President Keohane agreed to uphold the original code of conduct agreement.

After this campaign, the SAS group turned its attention to other labor issues and grew into a national organization, but its presence on Duke’s campus helps to ensure that the university upholds the original code of conduct policy.

Research Notes
Influences: 

This campaign influenced several other universities to campaign against sweatshops (2).

Sources: 
Carlon, H., Dixon, M., Van Dyke, N. “Manufacturing Dissent: Labor Revitalization, Union Summer and Student Protest”. Social Forces. Volume 86, Number 1, 2007. Pp. 193-214.

Duke Policy News. “Anti-Sweatshop leaders share Terry Sanford Award”. 1998. <http://sanford.duke.edu/news/newsletters/dpn/fall99/sanfordaward.html>

Greenhouse, Steven. “Duke to Adopt a Code to Prevent Apparel From Being Made in Sweatshops”. New York Times. March 8, 1998.

Lam, Jeff. “University adopts stringent anti-sweatshop code”. Chronicle. March 10, 1998. http://dukechronicle.com/node/113877

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aden Tedla, 10/02/2010