Tulane University students sit-in against sweatshop-produced apparel, 2000

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Debate and organization began in January, but the bulk of the campaign lasted 11 days, from 29 March 2000, to 8 April 2000.
29 March
2000
to
8 April
2000
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New Orleans, Louisiana
Location Description: 
Tulane University Campus
Goals: 
To push the University to revoke its membership with Sweatshop monitoring organization, FLA.

To prevent the wholesale by the University of Sweatshop-made Tulane apparel.

To provoke the University to sell apparel made in "worker-friendly" locations only.

 

Beginning in January of 2000, Tulane University students formed a student organization on campus as a result of distress about sweatshop-made Tulane Apparel. The students were unhappy with the school’s membership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a sweatshop monitoring organization. They believed that the FLA was an organization that indirectly helped to preserve low wages, long hours, and unhealthy working conditions, like the ones found in sweatshops. The students did not support the fact that their clothing was made by workers under these conditions and therefore wanted the school to revoke its membership with the FLA. Students hoped that once the school was no longer a part of the FLA their apparel would no longer be made by sweatshop workers. This was the ultimate goal in revoking the University’s membership with the FLA.

The student anti-sweatshop organization met with the University president Scott Cowen in early January to propose their concerns about the school’s membership with the FLA. The president referred the issue to the University Senate’s Social Issues Committee (USSIC). The students then gave several formal presentations to the committee, addressing their concerns about the FLA and the school apparel.

The USSIC met three different times to deliberate during the month of February, ultimately making their decision in early March. The committee concluded that Tulane University should become a member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), which was an organization that was favored by the students involved as well as the FLA. The school was to be a member of both the WRC and the FLA, and after remaining a member of both organizations for a year, the school would then be able to choose whether they wanted to remain in the FLA, the WRC, both, or neither.

Student activists were unhappy with the USSIC’s decision, as they wanted a complete withdrawal from the FLA effective immediately. They no longer wanted the University to be associated with the group in any way, and felt that the committee’s decision to remain in the group partially ignored their wishes. Following the senate approval to remain in the FLA, students who wanted a complete withdrawal initiated a protest.

Beginning on March 29, 2000, sixty-one Tulane students participated in a sit-in in Gibson Hall, one of the school’s main buildings. The students refused to leave the building after midnight, effectively violating the Tulane Code of Student Conduct. Over 220 students began rallying outside of the building in support of the demonstration, with faculty supporting the students as well. Campus public safety officers were ordered to enter the demonstration room and remain alongside the protestors, both for their protection as well as that of their opponents, mainly, the school administration. The officers were also asked to take down the names of all the students who remained in the building after hours at any given time during the protest. All students that had remained within the building after midnight over the course of the demonstration were fined $68.

On April 6, the administration announced that they would not negotiate with the students until the students obeyed the code of conduct and left the building. After this announcement was made, students began to camp outside of the building once midnight hit, so as to continue their demonstration while also complying by the University’s requests.

Eleven days later, on April 18, students, teachers, and the administration met and agreed to a compromise. The University would temporarily revoke its membership from both the WRC and the FLA, and the issue would then go to a student referendum to be held in the Fall of 2000. Before the referendum, student- and faculty-led education programs would be put into place, so as to inform other students of the issues going on in sweatshops. The hope was that students would bring that new education to the referendum, and a well-informed decision could then be discussed and agreed upon by the entire University.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The Tulane Students who participated in the organized Sit-in were influenced by a failed attempt earlier in the year to push the University to revoke it's membership in the FLA. The earlier attempt was only partially successful, and the students felt they needed to do more. (1)

Sources: 
Kreider, Aaron (B.A.). "Mobilizing Supporters to Sit-In: High Cost And High-Risk Activism in the Student Anti-Sweatshop Movement: A Thesis". Department of Sociology, Notre Dame, Indiana. November 2000. <http://www.campusactivism.org/server-new/uploads/masters.pdf>

Zwolak, Judith. "Deconstructing the Demonstration". Tulane University School Paper. April 26th, 2000. <http://tulane.edu/news/releases/archive/2000/deconstructing_the_demonstration.cfm>

Additional Notes: 
It is unclear whether or not a referendum actually took place the year following the sit-in and protests, therefore it is difficult to determine the success of the campaign. However, because Tulane did suspend it's FLA membership for a year, it is safe to say that some success was managed on the part of the campaigners in that their school was, periodically, no longer a member of the organization.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nikki Richards, 14/09/2012