New York University students sit-in for NYU to change its Labor Code of Conduct (End Deathtraps Campaign, 2013-2014)

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Timing
Time Period:  
9 September
2013
to
1 May
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New York City, New York
Location Description: 
New York University Campus
Goals: 
"SLAM is calling on NYU to require all university licensees to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between brands and unions to fix factory conditions in Bangladesh."
 

The deadliest disaster in the history of the Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry occurred in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013 when a sweatshop, Rana Plaza, collapsed and killed 1,134 people. The day before the collapse an engineer expressed concern over a crack in the building. Unfortunately, the factory remained open to fulfill overdue orders and collapsed when generators restarted after a power blackout. Other major RMG disasters include the Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Bangladesh on 24 November 2012, where 112 workers died, and the Ali Enterprises factory fire in Pakistan on 11 September 2012, where 315 workers died. Human rights groups and international media responded to the Rana Plaza collapse, drawing attention to the complicitness of major retailers in garment factory disasters.

On 15 May 2013, the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) responded to the collapse by creating the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord). The Accord was a legally binding contract between unions and clothing brands to fix factory conditions in Bangladesh. While over 100 apparel corporations signed the Accord by the end of 2013, most North American retailers refused to sign, citing liability concerns.

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) launched the End Deathtraps campaign, demanding U.S. colleges terminate their contracts with brands that produce college-logo clothing in sweatshops. USAS also demanded colleges to stop doing business with retailers that refused to sign the Accord. Several USAS campus affiliates launched campaigns at their campuses, including the Student and Labor Action Movement (SLAM) at New York University (NYU).

NYU Students Stand up for Sweatshop Workers from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

The SLAM campaign began on 9 September 2013, when 12 students personally delivered a letter to NYU President John Sexton. President Sexton was not available, so Lynne Brown, the Senior Vice President of University Relations and Public Affairs, accepted the students’ letter. The letter called for the University to change its Labor Code of Conduct to require all of its school apparel brands to sign the Accord. It also demanded NYU end contracts with brands that refused to sign the Accord, specifically JanSport and its parent company VF. Brown said that the University would respond shortly, however, it did not respond to the demands and SLAM’s campaign continued.

On 3 October, SLAM staged a die-in outside of the University Senate prior to a senate meeting. At the die-in, 10 students lay down holding pictures of workers who died in the April Rana Plaza factory collapse. Their goal was to force NYU to take action in favor of workers’ rights. During the 3 October senate meeting, President John Sexton responded to SLAM’s demands and announced that he would present the matter to the Public Affairs Committee of the University Senate. Sexton also announced that he would only make the Labor Code of Conduct changes if the University Senate passed a resolution that ratified them.

On 24 October, the eve of the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, USAS and SLAM held a joint rally outside the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan, New York City (NYC). At the rally, USAS and SLAM pressured garment companies to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety and pay victim compensation funds.

The University Senate ratified the Code of Conduct changes on 5 December. However, the resolution was merely a recommendation to the President to implement the changes. As a result, SLAM caroled for workers’ rights outside of President John Sexton’s office on 6 December. They sang songs like “Joy to the Workers” and “Workers’ Rights Are Coming to Town.” SLAM’s goal in caroling was to remind President Sexton of his promise to change the Labor Code of Conduct and, according to Robert Ascherman, one of the carol writers, “to encourage him to do what’s right” for workers’ rights. Along with caroling, SLAM delivered another letter to President Sexton urging the implementation of the updated code of conduct to protect the rights of workers in Bangladesh.

On 10 December 2013, President Sexton announced that he was going to implement the changes to NYU's Labor Code of Conduct; however, the SLAM campaign did not end. In February 2014, SLAM sent another letter to the President’s office requesting NYU break ties with VF Corporation, which continued to supply merchandise to the NYU bookstore despite refusing to sign the Accord.

In March 2014, SLAM staged another die-in in an NYU bookstore that sold JanSport merchandise. This die-in was similar to the 3 October die-in in form and purpose. It served to highlight the many workers killed and injured in garment factory accidents in Bangladesh in the past year.

On 1 May, SLAM staged a final sit-in in the NYU Gould Welcome Center to urge NYU to stop purchasing JanSport merchandise. While SLAM was willing to sit through the weekend, the sit-in only lasted four hours with university officials granting SLAM a meeting. Five days after this meeting, NYU stated it would stop ordering from JanSport unless the company and VF signed the Accord.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Addington, Catherine and StudenNation. 2013. “NYU Students Go Caroling for Change.” The Nation, December 9. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218035945/https://www.thenation.com/article/nyu-students-go-caroling-change/).

Amiel, Sari. 2014. “GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: NYU's Student & Labor Action Movement.” Green America, August 27. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040051/https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/green-your-school-nyus-student-labor-action-movement).

Bain, Marc. 2015. “Years after the Rana Plaza Tragedy, Too Many of Bangladesh's Factories Are Still ‘Death Traps.’” Quartz, October 25. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040523/https://qz.com/530308/more-than-two-years-after-the-rana-plaza-tragedy-too-many-of-bangladeshs-factories-are-still-death-traps/).

Dreier, Peter. 2014. “The 25 Best Progressive Victories of 2013.” The Huffington Post, March 3. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040453/https://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-dreier/the-25-best-progressive-v_b_4526842.html).

Khan, Kulsoom. 2014. “Pavement Pieces.” Pavement Pieces, March 17. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040230/http://pavementpieces.com/nyu-students-protest-sale-of-sweatshop-apparel-at-nyu-bookstore/).

Nyuslam. 2013. “End Deathtraps Admin Letter.” NYU SLAM, September 17. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218035840/https://nyuslam.wordpress.com/past-campaigns/end-deathtraps/admin-letter/).

Nyuslam. n.d. “Jansport Victory.” NYU SLAM. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040139/https://nyuslam.wordpress.com/past-campaigns/end-deathtraps/jansport-victory/).

Nyuslam. 2013. “Victory! NYU Has Taken the First Step in Ending Deathtraps.” NYU SLAM, December 10. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218034335/https://nyuslam.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/victory-nyu-has-taken-the-first-step-in-ending-deathtraps/).

Nyuslam. 2013. “SLAM Kicks off the End Deathtraps Campaign!” NYU SLAM, September 18. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218035503/https://nyuslam.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/slam-kicks-off-the-end-deathtraps-campaign/).

Nyuslam. 2013. “SLAM Holds 'Die-in' to End Deathtraps.” NYU SLAM, October 6. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218035601/https://nyuslam.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/die-in/).

StudentNation. 2013. “Students Demand End to NYU Ties With Deathtrap Factories in Bangladesh.” The Nation, September 17. Retrieved February 18, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190218040356/https://www.thenation.com/article/students-demand-end-nyu-ties-deathtrap-factories-bangladesh/).

Additional Notes: 
SLAM's campaign was a part of a larger USAS End Deathtraps Campaign. Students at Temple, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania launched similar campaigns and were successful.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Cindy Lopez, 17/02/2019