A coalition of students and labor activists protested outside Rice Hall Wednesday demanding that GW join a labor watchdog group to ensure that GW apparel is not made in sweatshops. Students later met with GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to urge him to join 76 other universities in the Worker Rights Consortium.
Trachtenberg told students GW would disclose the location of every factory in which GW apparel is manufactured, said senior Todd Tucker, a member of student group United Students Against Sweatshops who participated in the rally and meeting.
The WRC is a non-profit agency that investigates labor conditions in factories producing apparel for member unions and universities, including American and Georgetown universities.
After an hour and a half of protesting, USAS member Dan Calamuci said Director of Media Relations Gretchen King invited four students to meet with Trachtenberg.
The students presented a petition signed by thousands of GW students asking the University to join the WRC.
“It was very constructive,” King said. “It was a good exchange of ideas.”
“President Trachtenberg seemed open,” Calamuci said. “He was very firm that nothing was going to change today, but we didn’t expect anything to change today.”
Calamuci said the meeting was a minor victory for USAS. The last attempt to reach the administration before the protest was a letter sent March 27 to Trachtenberg by the Progressive Student Union.
A response addressed to “Anarchists, Socialists and other friends of the University” from Trachtenberg March 29 said no sweatshops are used to manufacture GW apparel.
“GW logo clothing is not made in sweatshops,” Trachtenberg wrote in the letter. “Your petition should be made to the (Student Association) and if they, through their elected student government, vote to authorize and appropriate a $1,000 contribution to the WRC, then you will become members.”
Trachtenberg cited the Collegiate Licensing Company and Follett Bookstore’s codes of conduct to assert that companies making GW apparel do not use sweatshop labor.
Calling Trachtenberg’s letter patronizing, USAS members said they decided to present their demands in person.
About 30 people gathered in Kogan Plaza toting bongo drums and blow-horns early Wednesday afternoon. They began chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, sweatshop labor’s got to go,” reminiscent of last year’s International Monetary Fund and World Bank demonstrations. The group marched through campus to Rice Hall, circling the sidewalk in front of the building. The crowd quickly grew to about 60 people as more students, faculty members and activists arrived.
“It’s really important to raise public awareness and concern about this issue,” sophomore John Mayer said.
“It’s not just about raising workers wages, it’s about bettering the work environment,” senior Natasha Udu-Gama said.
American University student Mary Kay Carver applauded GW for its efforts. Carver said she protested to persuade AU officials to join the WRC.
University Police officers took precautions earlier in the day in anticipation of the protest. Officers locked the front door of Rice Hall and filtered people with proper identification through a side door. Metropolitan Police also asked Tucker to make sure the sidewalk was kept open.
Both sides agree that there is still a lot of “homework” that needs to be done before GW makes a final decision, King said.