Macalester students stage sit-in to oppose sweatshop apparel, 2000

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
While the sit-in and direct action occurred in the spring of 2000, the College bookstore began stocking sweat-shop free apparel in the winter of 2012. It is important to note that there were actions happening in 1999 and through 2002 at campuses across the United States in opposition to sweat shop production.
6 March
2000
to
17 March
2000
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
St. Paul, Minnesota
Location Description: 
Most action occurred on the Macalester campus, a private, liberal arts college
Goals: 
1. The immediate and unequivocal withdrawal of Macalester College from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and join the Workers' Rights Consortium (WRC).

2. The adoption of the Code of Conduct put together by Macalester's Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC) as a draft for the college.

3. That no disciplinary action be taken against any student involved in the occupation.

 

Like students at many other colleges and universities at the turn of the millennium, students at Macalester College began to react against sweatshop and anti-union corporations that supplied the school store with apparel in 2000. Inspired by student activism at Duke University the previous year and a highly publicized sit-in at the University of Pennsylvania the previous month, Macalester students escalated their campaign on Monday morning, March 6, with a sit-in on the steps of the President’s office.

Organizers declared the occupation to be a “Liberated Zone” and a drug- and alcohol-free space, such that the administration would have no reason to dispel the protest. Organizers issued three demands: “(1) that no punishment be dealt to the protesters, (2) that Macalester College withdraw from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and (3) that the college instead join the Workers Rights Consortium, a sweatshop watchgroup made up of labor organizations.” Prior to the action, organizers had collected 600 signatures in support of joining the WRC.

The FLA is an organization that compels corporations to ‘self-monitor’ human rights policies in factories under their jurisdiction, which has proved to be an ineffective and corrupt process, allowing for sweatshop conditions and wages that fall below a living standard. With the support of the then-young United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS, founded in 1997), Macalester students were calling attention to the many abuses that arose out of this system, as well as the gaps in corporate accountability. They proposed the WRC as an alternative, stricter monitoring system.

On the fourth day of the sit-in, some Macalester professors began holding class at the site of the protest. The students’ massive banner said, "Macalester's Administration Supports Sweatshops." The community provided the students with support and the Liberated Zone became a point of meeting and further organization. Between twenty and fifty students were there at all times.

As a result of the 11-day sit-in, the college agreed to two of the group’s three demands, but retained its affiliation with the FLA. Macalester College became the only college to hold memberships in the WRC and the FLA simultaneously. 

At this time, the group of students had garnered the support of the Macalester chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), some members of the student government, and external labor unions. The sit-in ended peacefully as the College administration offered to join the WRC and re-think its membership of the FLA during the summer term. Ultimately, Macalester did rescind its support of the FLA. 

About a week after the sit-in, Macalester College hosted the Eighth Annual “Meeting the Challenge” Labor Educational Conference, which brought together activists and speakers from around a dozen local unions, theatre troupes, dancers and other activists. This helped amplify local and national media attention about the sit-in and larger Macalester campaign, and then carried over to the campaign at the nearby University of Minnesota. Macalester students also wrote a series of editorials for the newspaper and continued to organize rallies and marches on campus.

Later in March of 2000, President Michael McPherson charged the Long Range Planning Committee to advise him and the college on the Macalester’s "social responsibilities as an economic actor.” This was the genesis of a now crucial Macalester College Social Responsibility Committee (SRC).

The SRC reviewed proposals that ranged from labor practices to environmental protections. While it had been dormant for some time, in April 2004, President Brian Rosenberg “revived the SRC as an avenue for healthy discussion on issues of significant implications for responsible institutional behavior.” It was reportedly modeled after the 2000 subcommittee of the Board of Trustees circa their 1980’s divestment campaign from South Africa. In 2000-2001, the SRC released “Recommendation on Workers Rights Consortium” endorsing the campaign.

After the 2000-era campaign, students continued to be active related to issues of human rights and sweatshop labor, as did the Social Responsibility Committee. Students have especially pushed forward with the Designated Supplier Program (DSP), another USAS/WRC initiative that required University apparel suppliers to verify that their workers received a living wage and the right to unionize and collectively bargain.

In 2008, student Andrew Mirzayi sent out a letter to all student organizations reminding them of the Student Government policy stating that “organizations should contribute to companies that provide safe, meaningful working conditions and the means to live within ecological constraints.” This was one more step in a larger process to encourage Macalester to entirely divest from corporations that used sweatshop, union-free labor.

Finally, in spring of 2012, the University bookstore officially began carrying sweatshop-free apparel from USAS-approved supplier, Alta Gracia. Most recently, in 2012, Macalester students began moving forward on another USAS-related campaign to invest Macalester’s money in a community-based bank.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The Macalester students were influenced by recent anti-sweatshop victories at Wisconsin and Indiana, another sit-in the previous month at the University of Pennyslvania and a concurrent sit-in at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. (1)

Sources: 
Steins, Eric. "Day Four: Macalester College Occupation." Accessed: 2 October 2012. Posted: 10 March 2000. <http://www.ainfos.ca/00/mar/ainfos00195.html>

Richter, Adam. "Student Victory in Minnesota!" Accessed 14 September 2012. <http://socialistaction.org/?s=macalester+sit+in>.

"Macalester College Apparel Purchasing Code of Conduct. Accessed: 16 September 2012. <http://www.macalester.edu/procurement/documents/codeofconduct.pdf>.

"US: Anti-Sweatshop Student Sit-Ins Continue." Corpwatch.org. Posted: 9 March 2000. Accessed: 16 September 2012. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=253>.

"History of the Social Responsibility Committee." Macalester College. Accessed: 16 September 2012. <http://www.macalester.edu/committees/src/history.html>

Pickrell, Anna and Surman, Danny. "MPIRG gets sweatshop-free Alta Gracia in the Highland." The MacWeekly. Published: 23 February 2012. Accessed: 16 September 2012. <http://www.themacweekly.com/news/mpirg-gets-sweatshop-free-alta-gracia-in-the-highland-1.2794740?pagereq=1#.UFXcO2hWrrE>

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Samantha Shain, 16/09/2012