University of Michigan students campaign against sweatshops, 1999

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Time Period:  
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Location Description: 
University of Michigan Campus
The students wanted the University of Michigan to help them make companies tell them where their factories were located around the world. After this was accomplished, independent organizations could make sure that the factories treated their employees well and did not operate as sweatshops.

In response to other universities’ anti-sweatshop protests, students at the University of Michigan formed SOLE, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality. Their goal was for the University of Michigan to require companies that made clothing for the school to disclose where their factories were located. Once this information was available, outside independent organizations could make sure that the factories were not sweatshops. If factory locations remained secret, companies could get away with unethical treatment of employees because no outside sources would be able to make sure their practices were fair without knowing which factories to look at.

In early March 1999, SOLE began their campaign dramatically. They decided to hold a sit-in in the university president’s office. Thirty students were able to fit into his office; 200 others rallied outside. The president, Lee C. Bollinger, said, "They are terrific students. They're just the kind of students you want on your campus. They were interested in a serious problem, they were knowledgeable about the problem, and they really wanted to do something about it." He was very supportive of their fight and that same month he issued an anti-sweatshop/human rights policy.

Rachel Paster, a student protester, noted, “If we were a 'radical' group, university administrations would have brushed us off. . . The fact that they don't is testament to the fact that we have support, not just from students on the far left, but from students in the middle ground who don't consider themselves radicals. Without those people we would NEVER have gotten as far as we have.”

The support from not only the president of the university, but also a majority of students (many of whom were at the first demonstration and wrote letters of support to the school paper), was a large factor to why SOLE’s protests were so successful, and in such a short period of time.

Later in June President Bollinger created an advisory panel to discuss solutions to the issue and in July they sent a letter to all of the companies from which the university purchased telling them to disclose all names and locations of their factories by January 1, 2000. During 1999, the advisory panel, President Bollinger, and the university as a whole attended and hosted numerous conferences and meetings to discuss anti-sweatshop measures.

In October, NIKE, one of the largest companies involved, disclosed information about its factories. The Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) code of conduct was also created to provide specific anti-sweatshop measures that companies had to take to be allowed to sell to the university. Without meeting these ethical standards, apparel companies would lose the university’s business.

Research Notes

The students were influenced by earlier university campaigns against sweatshops. (1)

Dreier, Peter, and Richard Appelbaum. "The Campus Anti-Sweatshop Movement." The American Prospect. 1 Sep 1999. The American Prospect, Web. 14 Feb 2010.

Greenhouse, Steven. " Activism Surges at Campuses Nationwide, and Labor Is at Issue." New York Times 29 Mar 1999, late ed.: Sec. A, p. 14. Print.

Greenhouse, Steven. "Nike Identifies Plants Abroad Making Goods For Universities." New York Times 8 Oct 1999, late ed.: Sec. C, p. 1. Print.

University of Michigan Regents. "Actions By The University Of Michigan to Combat Sweatshop Conditions in The Manufacture of Licensed Apparel." University of Michigan. 2009. University of Michigan, Web. 14 Feb 2010.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Sophia Naylor, 14/02/2010