University on sidelines of sweatshop protest

College students at major universities nationwide continue to protest the use of sweatshops to manufacture collegiate clothing, but GW has stayed out of the controversy.

The anti-sweatshop campaign gained national attention when Duke University’s Students Against Sweatshops rallied to require licensees to enact more stringent codes of conduct regarding substandard working conditions and public disclosure of factory locations.

The Collegiate Licensing Company, an Atlanta-based firm that represents 160 colleges and universities, has come under fire from its clients, which include Duke, Georgetown and GW universities.

GW student leaders and administrators said while they support the student-led movement, the University has no plans to change its contract with CLC.

“I think what the other schools are doing is great,” Student Association Executive Vice President Jesse Strauss said. “I think it’s a pity that there hasn’t been an anti-sweatshop movement at GW, but there are a lot of other movements that students take up here.”

Strauss said although his sympathies are with student protesters he does not think GW would effect much change if it joined the protest, because GW apparel is only available in the GW Bookstore. Strauss said the University will benefit indirectly from the protest because big-name universities will pressure CLC to adopt a revised code.

“If GW signs (the Code of Conduct), it won’t have as much teeth compared to when larger universities sign it,” Strauss said. “But when (the big universities) sign the pledge, it will be good for GW.”

Georgetown students ended a four-day sit-in Tuesday, reaching an agreement that will require monitoring of companies abroad that make clothing with the school’s logo. Last weekend, Duke students also secured an agreement with school administrators and University of Wisconsin-Madison students began a sit-in Monday.

SA President Carrie Potter said she thinks rising consumer awareness in the global marketplace also has forced firms to comply with higher standards.

“I think it would be our obligation to get some sort of assurance that our University isn’t involved in that sort of process,” Potter said. “If we’re not confident, then I think (the protest) is something students should get involved in.”

Al Ingle, GW’s associate vice president for business affairs, said the administration has not been approached by student protesters and does not plan to initiate an investigation without an indication that the GW Bookstore carries apparel produced with sweatshop labor.

“I’ve followed Georgetown activities and I’ve asked some questions,” Ingle said. “I was given verbal indications by in-house sources that the clothing is not made in sweatshops. But that hasn’t been verified.”

Ingle said he has not pursued a confirmation and said it would be an overreaction on the part of the administration.

“We’re not encouraging student protest,” he said. “If students know information that would give us a specific direction, then the vice president’s office and the treasurer would consult with the Board of Trustees. If students present a request, at that point the University would make a judgment. It would do the right thing.”

Ingle said the University has protective language in its contract with Follett Bookstores related to quality and pricing that would allow GW to make changes about apparel manufacturers.

“(Business Services) will rely on the administration to guide us with information from (GW’s) General Counsel,” Ingle said.

The clothing carried in the bookstore is produced by companies such as Jansport, Gear and Champion.

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