If you will excuse a bit of parental pride, I would like to report that my son Thomas, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has been involved in a protest aimed at getting UNC to participate in a program that protects the rights of workers who sew university logo apparel. On Friday, students held a demonstration on campus, while a smaller group is in the fifth day of a sit-in at the building containing the office of Chancellor James Moeser, the target of the pressure campaign. Carolina Blue clothing is among the most popular “brands” of university apparel.
The UNC actions are part of the latest wave of recent campus actions in support of the Designated Supplier Program (DSP), an initiative of the Worker Rights Consortium and United Students Against Sweatshops. Recent actions have taken place at schools such as Penn State University, the University of Montana, Appalachian State University and the University of Houston. While all the protests have been non-violent, more than 30 students were arrested last week at Penn State.
The DSP, launched in 2005, is an attempt to fight sweatshop conditions by getting universities to demand that licensee companies distributing their logo apparel make use of supplier factories that have been independently verified to pay a living wage and respect the right of workers to organize. Currently, more than 30 schools have signed on to DSP (including the entire University of California system), while officials at other institutions have resisted.
Apparel companies such as Nike, Champion (owned by Hanesbrands) and Russell Athletic (owned by Berkshire Hathaway) are among the big players in the $3 billion university logo market. Nike, the target of intensive protests during the 1990s over its use of sweatshop suppliers, has cleaned up its act, though the company itself has acknowledged that its suppliers do not always comply with its standards. Since monitoring its large number of plants—located in 36 countries—is impossible, the alternative is to direct business to a smaller group of factories known to treat their workers decently—hence, DSP. That way, students can ensure that the sweat in university apparel comes from wearers, not producers.
Note: The Worker Rights Consortium has an online database of factories around the world that produce university logo apparel.