The Student Movement


 United Students Against Sweatshops

One of the most active components of the Anti-Sweatshop movement in the US is student led. The student anti-sweatshop movement began as a protest, by students, against universities allowing their logos to be used on apparel made using sweat shop labor.[i] Any item sold bearing the university logo brings in money for the university and therefore the school has a responsibility to make sure that these products are produced under fair working conditions. Over 30 US universities have had active campaigns on their campuses[ii] and 170 others have joined United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national, student led anti-sweatshop organization.[iii]

The student movement is an important part of the global movement because college students have access to resources that other people do not have. Students have the “energy, passion, dedication and resources to act collectively” and are able to form large communication and organizing networks using framework already in place.[iv] The university setting, with a history of critical intellectual traditions, provides students with the tools, experiences and resources for researching, understanding and writing reports that explore the issue and uncover the actions of corporations.[v]

Students are also in an ideal position to raise the visibility of the movement. They are able to use sensationalist techniques[vi], like staging “alternative fashion shows” where models showcase clothing while an announcer talks about the sweatshop conditions in which the clothing was made.[vii] Students are able to use campus affiliations to highlight concerns in innovative ways and make the issue “hip” and popular. [viii] In addition, students themselves are an important consumer market and therefore they represent a real threat to corporations if they decide to boycott brands. [ix]

Finally, the student movement is important because university-licensed clothing is one of the classes of apparel that is best suited to overseas, sweatshop production because it does not change with popular fashion trends. High fashion clothing, on the other hand, tends not to be made overseas because it must be able to change rapidly in order to keep up with consumer demands. [x]

The student movement also has some unique weaknesses. Because students are often idealistic, the goals and strategies of their movement can sometimes be naive. For example, it does not always take into account the fact that though a living wage might be the ultimate goal, achieving that goal too quickly could cause companies to move away from the area, leaving people jobless.[xi] Another example of naïveté on behalf of the student movement is the belief that codes of conduct are enough to cause change even if there are no methods of monitoring or enforcing them.[xii] Another limitation of the student movement is that in the past it has mainly had an international focus, resulting in a distance between the student activists and the workers that was more than just geographic. This is changing, however, as campus groups are turning their attention to the working conditions of university employees and workers in their own communities.[xiii]

Students at the University of North Carolina have not only taken a stand against global sweatshop labor, but have also acknowledged the need to get students interesting, informed about and active against local labor problems. In addition they have recognized the importance of identifying and reflecting on the race, class and gender politics of difference between students and garment factory workers. Strategies used by UNC students to increase awareness include dramatizing sweatshop conditions with makeshift factories on campus, stripping down to their underwear and declaring “I’d rather go naked than wear clothes made in a sweatshop,” participating on campus advisory boards and organizing sit-ins and noisy demonstrations prior to the signing of multimillion dollar apparel contracts. [xiv]

Texas State University students formed the group “Sweat Free State” (SFS) in 1999. They organized a serious of negotiations with University administration, held meetings, brought guest speakers to campus and distributed leaflets to raise awareness and put pressure on the school administration. In early 2000 they were one of the first universities in the nation to join the WRC. [xv]

Texas Tech University students chose a more dramatic style of activism in order to convince their school officials to join the WRC. Along with educational seminars, leaflets and letters to school officials they also held protests outside of the campus clothing shop, erected and occupied a tent city on campus and six student activists when on an 11 day hunger strike, only stopping when the university agreed to join the WRC. [xvi]

[i] {Mandle, 2000}

[ii] {D'Mello, 2003}

[iii] {Krupat, 2002}

[iv] {Cravey, 2004 }

[v] {Cravey, 2004 }

[vi] {Cravey, 2004 }

[vii] {D'Mello, 2003}

[viii] {Cravey, 2004 }

[ix] {Cravey, 2004 }

[x] {Mandle, 2000}

[xi] {Mandle, 2000}

[xii] {Mandle, 2000}

[xiii] {Cravey, 2004 }

[xiv] {Cravey, 2004 }

[xv] {Einwohner, 2005}

[xvi] {Einwohner, 2005}