Georgetown University students campaign against sweatshops, 1997-1999

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Timing
Time Period:  
Fall
1997
to
October
1999
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Washington, D.C.
Location Description: 
Georgetown University
Goals: 
To get Georgetown University to adopt a Code of Conduct on CLC outsourcing policies that included worker rights such as the right to organize, public disclosure of factory locations, independent monitoring reports, and living wage
 

The first wave of anti-sweatshop movements developed in the 1980s and focused on U.S. economic policy in South America. It was not until 1996 that the anti-sweatshop movement gained national media attention with the revelation that the actress Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line for Wal-Mart was sewn in Honduran sweatshops. The media coverage this received greatly increased awareness on U.S. outsourcing policies. This coupled with concerted efforts by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) to foster student-run anti-sweatshop campaigns, sparked a series of anti-sweatshop actions on college campuses throughout the United States. Among those was the student campaign at Georgetown University, which lasted from 1997-1999.

In the fall of 1997, the Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) formed, the group that led protest efforts for the duration of the campaign. Georgetown student Laura McSpedon emerged as the campaign director of the group and quickly found a target for protest in Guess Jeans Company. GSC’s primary complaint against Guess was that the company did not provide their workers with a “living wage,” which according to the students consisted of enough income, earned at a reasonable amount of hours per week, for a comfortable existence including basic necessities such as housing, clothing, and nutrition . In order to protest Guess policies of failing to provide their workers with a living wage, GSC purchased a few pairs of secondhand Guess jeans and encouraged students to write messages of protest on them, before they were then mailed back to Guess corporate headquarters. For the remainder of 1997, GSC staged a few teach-ins and public speeches against sweatshop policies. GSC’s efforts centered around a desire to create a uniform Code of Conduct for labor policies of the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), the group responsible for outsourcing the production of collegiate apparel to sweatshops.

The mid to late spring of 1998 was when the Georgetown anti-sweatshop campaign really gained momentum. April 1998 marked a turning point in the progress of the movement with the BJ&B worker tour. BJ&B was a Korean-owned clothing factory based out of the Dominican Republic that generated logo-ed apparel for a number of American colleges, including Georgetown. In addition to paying workers well below a living wage, this factory was guilty of dehumanizing practices such as forcing workers to scream in unison, “I am not a human, I am an animal”, several times a day. The worker tour was an effort organized by Georgetown Solidarity Committee to bring some workers of BJ&B to the university in order to share their stories. Following this event the Georgetown Dean of Students Penny Rue made a statement promising that the University would work at bettering conditions for workers, even if that meant operating independently from the Collegiate Licensing Company. At the time little concrete changes came from this promise, but the GSC was finally granted its first meeting with the Vice President of the school after having been trying for months.

1998 also marked the formation of the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), an association that created a coalition of college anti-sweatshop organizations in July of 1998. Laura McSpedon was one of three students responsible for drafting the constitution of the coalition, which quickly grew from thirty colleges to three hundred. On Georgetown’s campus the role of the GSC was also solidified with the creation of an executive board including students Laura McSpedon, Ben Smith, Deborah Sabat, and Andrew Milmore. The remainder of the spring of 1998 GSC was involved in activities such as tabling, bake sales, and organizing rallies.

In the summer of 1998, the school’s licensing directors met with the Collegiate Licensing Company lawyers in order to create a Code of Conduct for outsourcing; however manufacturers, rather than the university students, were the heavily consulted group. This was met with widespread criticism among Georgetown students. Thus GSC’s focus of the 1998 to 1999 academic year was to promote three areas they felt the new Code of Conduct neglected: the need for public disclosure of factory locations, a living wage for workers, and the end of escape clauses for American companies’ labor policies. GSC also started a campaign calling for the rejection of this incomplete code of conduct, a decision that was ultimately that of the university president Leo O’Donovan. Attempting to increase pressure on the president, GSC created a nine-piece poster board display, outlining the Georgetown’s role in the sweatshop problem. Within a week more than 800 students, staff, and faculty had visited the exhibit and signed petition postcards. At the end of the week GSC organized a campus-wide march on the office of the president, involving more than twenty student organizations. Donovan’s assistant was there to accept the petitions of the group and listened as McSpedon gave a speech on Georgetown’s moral duty to alter their outsourcing policies.

In January 1999 the Collegiate Licensing Company was forced to respond to the wave of student activism and implemented a new code of conduct, which still did not address GSC’s call for total disclosure of factory locations. Over the next two months GSC conducted a number of protest rallies, teach-ins, flyerings, and debates in order to sway the opinion of the Georgetown administration, many of whom were on the CLC task force to re-draft the code of conduct. In 1999 there also emerged the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a non-profit formed by the Clinton administration for the promotion of just labor policies. This organization was highly supported by Georgetown’s administration, but the students were skeptical and saw USAS as a more viable alternative.

On February 5, 1999, twenty-six members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee staged an 85-hour sit-in at the president’s office. The students were provided pizza through the duration of the sit-in by other student supporters. The students agreed to end their sit-in when the administration called for negotiations. After much stubbornness on both sides, a compromise was finally reached between the activists and administration. The administration agreed to not sign the CLC Code of Conduct until visible progress on living wages and independent monitoring had been made and also to cancel their contracts with any manufactures that failed to disclose the locations of their factories within one year, a promise that they kept. Thus, GSC reached their stated goals on anti-sweatshop practices.

Research Notes
Influences: 

South Africa divestment campaigns on college campuses influenced this campaign (1)

Sources: 
The Hoya 20 Oct 1998 - 07 Dec 1999 , Print.

Smith, Adam. "The Power of the Dollar Consumer Activism in the 20th Century: From the National Consumers’ League to the Student Anti-sweatshop Movement." thesis. (2002): Print.

Milmore, Adam. "Beginnings of the GSC: 1997-1999." USAS. Web. 10 Feb 2010. <http://georgetown.usas.org/about/history-of-georgetown-solidarity/ >.

Greenhouse, Steven. "Two Protests By Students Over Wages For Workers." New York Times 31 Jan 1999, Late Print.

"Students, Workers Uniting to End Low Wage Jobs on Campuses; ." PR Newswire US 26 Oct 2005, Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Olivia Ensign, 15/2/2010