Staff Editorial: Sweatshop protest

Fighting a dismissive administration with a disturbing policy of silence, students aligned with the United Students Against Sweatshops have forged new ground in their effort to ensure that sweatshop labor is not used to produce GW merchandise. After a Wednesday protest outside Rice Hall, GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg met with the students who have demanded information detailing where and how clothes bearing GW logos are made. The students’ success should be commended, and the University should listen to their arguments and sign on to the Workers Rights Consortium, an international sweatshop-monitoring organization.

Sweatshop labor is a recognized problem in the clothing industry. Celebrities and international brand names, like Kathie Lee Gifford and Nike, have been tainted by the use of underpaid, overworked laborers toiling in unsafe conditions. Colleges and universities, which make money selling apparel, are not immune from the problem. Recognizing this, the WRC was formed to ensure that humane labor standards are applied to workers who manufacture apparel bearing the logos of academic institutions. Joining the group with 76 member colleges and universities – including Georgetown, American and New York universities – is an effective means of guaranteeing GW does not participate in exploiting Third World labor.

GW officials insist the University – through its major licensee, Follett Higher Education Group – already complies with the standards of the WRC Code of Conduct and that joining the consortium would be redundant and unnecessary. While this may be true, GW should employ all the tools at its disposal to ensure the clothing students buy does not come at the expense of exploited workers. The WRC is one such tool.

The University’s reluctance to join the WRC is puzzling, considering the only requirement for joining is the $1,000 registration fee, or about three percent of one student’s estimated tuition and expenses.

The most troubling aspect of the debate, though, is the reluctance of administrators to release information about the factories and companies producing GW products. To his credit, Trachtenberg agreed to turn over that information at Wednesday’s meeting. However, allowing the issue to drag on for more than a year and then only seriously considering students’ concerns after a protest reflects poorly on GW. This issue – and students – deserves better from the administration.

But with Wednesday’s meeting, at least the process of exorcising sweatshop labor from the GW licensing program has begun.

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