University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students campaign against sweatshops, 1999

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Although the campaign lasted around 2 years, with no definite beginning or end, the most important actions took place during 1999.
October
1997
to
October
1999
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Location Description: 
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Goals: 
Humane working conditions and better pay at overseas factories making UNC-licensed apparel.

To require full disclosure of all factories where university apparel is made.

To force manufacturers to pay a "living wage" to all employees.

 

The students’ anti-sweatshop movement began to generate support in the mid 90s, but was most impactful by the end of the decade. Universities and colleges nationwide began investigating where their college merchandise was made and inquiring about the manufacturers’ labor laws. The main target for many universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was Nike because of their partnership with the athletic teams. UNC signed a 7.1 million dollar contract with Nike during the summer of 1997, thus committing to Nike products for the duration of their contract. Since all athletes were required to wear Nike, and most of the University’s other merchandise was also Nike-related, students believed it was necessary to ensure that just labor laws were in effect, protecting the workers that made their apparel.

On November 8, 1997, which was arguably the most important day of the college football regular season, students planned to join forces with Florida State students to protest Nike. The students also mailed letters to every football player with an “X” made of tape to wear on their jersey. They wanted the players to wear the “X” prominently on their jerseys as a symbol of protest, but not over the Nike “swoosh,” which was illegal.

About a year later, the chancellor of the University, Michael Hooker, suggested that Nike send a small group of students and faculty to Southeast Asia to see the factories first-hand; Nike readily agreed. However, Pete Andrews, a professor at the University believed that the trip would be unproductive for students and that the trip should, instead, be taken by people who had an in-depth understanding of the issue. However, as a result Andrews teamed up with two other professors in creating a new course related to these issues. By February 1998, UNC added a new course to the curriculum: “Economics, Ethics, and Impacts of the Global Economy: The Nike Example,” more commonly known as “The Nike Class.” Throughout the semester, students would cover the following topics: the history of the textile industry, the development of the global economy, the differences, in labor and standards between the United States and Third World countries, treatment of women in sweatshops, the growth of sports marketing and the implications of public/corporate partnerships.

On February 4, 1999, a UNC task force recommended that the school adopt a CLC (Collegiate Licensing Company) code for a year as a test trial. The code was meant to promote consistent and uniform labor code standards. But students found two faults in the CLC code: first, it did not require full disclosure of all factories where university apparel is made; and second, it did not force manufacturers to pay a “living wage” to all employees. (A “living wage” is the hourly wage needed for an individual to meet basic needs.)

Consequently, about twenty-five students began a sit-in in the administrative building on April 22, 1999, and remained there for four days, only leaving when UNC agreed to demand humane working conditions and better pay at overseas factories making UNC-licensed apparel. Marion Traub-Werner and Lorrie Bradley, two UNC students, led the protest and stated that the students were also asking the chancellor to pledge not to sign on to the Fair Labor Agreement (FLA) because it does not support public disclosure or a more uniform wage standard, the two most important aspects of the students’ campaign.

UNC is one of the leading universities in sales of Nike’s products, thus being an influential actor in the national campaign. About seventy-five million dollars worth of products were sold in 1998, and the university also received money for scholarships, financial aid, and athletics. On April 23, 1999, acting Chancellor William McCoy said if companies did not agree to the university’s labor code, he would cut off contract rights for Nike to make and sell UNC-logo merchandise. Following this agreement, which put UNC at the forefront of the national movement, manufacturers were required to reveal their factory locations, thus enabling both students and human-right groups to monitor the working conditions. This accomplishment won the respect and praise of many professors and officials at the university. In fact, Chuck Stone, a professor who had participated in the Civil Rights movement, said at the victory rally, “You’re not generation X…You’re the generation that’s going to save our generation. You are more committed to diversity, to togetherness, than any generation before you.”

Much to the dismay of many students, the university partnered with FLA on August 10, 1999. Although the activists considered this a far-from-ideal situation, it was at least a start in the right direction. Eight days later, the campaigners set a deadline for the labor code. Vendors of UNC-logo products needed to start meeting code requirements on November 15. The University also said that March 31 was the target date for creating a formal process to address complaints about code violations. Under that process, the companies had to supply the names of all subcontractors so the information could be public.

On October 7, 1999, anti-sweatshop activists claimed victory as Nike finally released information regarding the location and ownership of its factories producing merchandise for the collegiate apparel industry. According to the information, Nike used 38 factories in the US and abroad to produce apparel, 22 of which were located in Bangladesh, China, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

In 2001, UNC signed a new multi-million dollar contract with Nike but with strict licensing standards which outlined wages and benefits, working hours, overtime compensation, child labor, forced labor, health and safety, nondiscrimination, harassment and abuse, freedom of association, and collective bargaining. Within this contract, the university also had the right to end the contract if Nike or outside suppliers failed to adhere to UNC’s labor code.

Although the students were successful in achieving their immediate demands, the struggle against sweatshops still continues at the international level and requires continued support.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Bender, Daniel E., and Richard A. Greenwald. Sweatshop USA: the American Sweatshop in Historical and Global Perspective. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Cravey, Altha J. "Students and the Anti-Sweatshop Movement." Antipode 36.2 (2004): 203-08. Print.

Stancill, Jane. "UNC Activists Organizing Big-game Play against Nike." News and Observer [Raleigh] 30 Oct. 1997. Print.

Stancill, Jane. "UNC Runs Its Course with Nike." News and Observer [Raleigh] 9 Feb. 1998. Print.

Stroup, Katherine. "Sweatshop Activists Clash Again with U. North Carolina Officials." University Wire [Durham] 9 Sept. 1999. Print.

Svrluga, Barry. "Nike, Heels Reach Deal / Terms Include Close Eye on Labor." News and Observer [Raleigh] 17 Oct. 2001, Sports sec. Print.

Svrluga, Barry. "UNC Near Contract with Nike." News and Observer [Raleigh] 8 Oct. 2001, Sports sec. Print.

"UNC Task Force Recommends Adoption of Labor Code for School Apparel." The Associated Press State & Local Wire [Chapel Hill] 4 Feb. 1999, State and Regional sec. Print.

"UNC-Chapel Hill Signs Agreement with Apparel Industry-backed Monitoring Group." The Associated Press State & Local Wire [Chapel Hill] 10 Aug. 1999, State and Regional sec. Print.

Zagier, Alan S. "UNC Endorses Anti-sweatshop Rules." News and Observer [Raleigh] 24 Apr. 1999. Print.

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (22/07/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aly Passanante, 06/02/2011