Student activists march to Rice Hall to lobby against potential sweatshop use

A group of students held a protest Wendesday to convince administrators to re-evaluate the foreign suppliers they use to produce University apparel.

Activists of the Progressive Student Union say that at least 16 of the factories on GW’s list of merchandise suppliers are sweatshops. According to Follett Higher Education, the company that manages the GW Bookstore and its products, a group called Global Social Compliance monitors its factories for appropriate conditions.

The PSU believes that the Global Social Compliance is acting corruptly due to its financial ties with Follett and that an independent third-party should be used. The union held a “teach-in” Monday night in the Marvin Center to educate students about the implications of sweatshop use and organized a protest Wednesday morning outside Rice Hall to pressure the University to stop supporting unfair labor practices.

PSU officer Matthew Brokman said his members are demanding that GW sign on to the Worker’s Rights Consortium, an independent labor-rights organization that monitors factories’ conditions. The group includes D.C. schools, such as Georgetown and American universities and the University of Maryland, among more than 150 others nationwide.

The union is also pushing the University to join a branch of the consortium called the Designated Suppliers Program, which would ensure all the factories supplying to the University are not sweatshops.

On Wednesday morning, about 15 students marched from Kogan Plaza around campus to Rice Hall, where they passed out palm cards and solicited petition signatures.

“The focus of what we did was we strung together all of the GW apparel we owned to show how little pride we have in how these clothes were made,” Brokman said.

He said they planned to end the protest by dropping off a letter for University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The union plans to submit a letter of demands every day until administrators take action.

Before the students could drop off their letter, Trachtenberg came outside to greet the protesters.

“He pinched me on the cheek and told us he’d like one of our posters,” Brokman said. “Then we were done.”

Before planning the protest PSU members had three meetings with school officials, including Trachtenberg, in which they presented research on the supply companies for GW apparel. The University has not agreed to change who supplies official merchandise.

“(The school) has made it pretty clear that they do not plan to take action that will make any change,” Brokman said.

Brokman said the University’s main contention is the $1,000 fee required to associate with the consortium. “It’s pretty clear it comes down to money,” he said.

Trachtenberg said that the administration is taking its time and considering the possible precedent they would set in a “complicated question.”

“We’re trying to be respectful of (students’) concerns because we think they come from a pure heart – even if we’re not completely persuaded,” Trachtenberg said. He added that he did not think the average student would have a vested interest in the issue.

The Student Association has passed three separate resolutions in support of University membership of the Workers’ Rights Consortium. The SA offered to pay the $1,000 fee out of its budget, but administrators’ approval is still needed to join the consortium.

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