In the world of protest, it’s skin to win. Even when it’s 39 degrees.
A dozen members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality and the University Rugby Club stripped off their clothes in front of the Fleming Administration Building last night in the name of social change.
“We’d rather be naked than wear clothes made in sweatshops,” SOLE member Art Reyes said.
SOLE members said they held the protest because University President Mary Sue Coleman declined to respond to their requests for a meeting to discuss cutting contracts with companies that manufacture University apparel that the group alleges do not follow the University’s vendor code of conduct. The code mandates that all companies the University does business with must adhere to certain labor and human-rights standards.
“We’re here to lend a helping penis,” Engineering sophomore Aaron Dodd said.
SOLE was created to fight for fair labor practices. The group is most famous for holding a 51-hour sit-in at then-University president Lee Bollinger’s office in March 1999 to protest the University’s contract with Nike. After the sit-in, the University implemented a vendor code of conduct for companies manufacturing apparel bearing the University’s logo.
However, members of SOLE said the University administration is ignoring the code.
“It’s not enforced at all,” Reyes said.
SOLE held another sit-in April 2001. Soon after, the University became a member of the Worker’s Rights Consortium, which helps enforce manufacturing codes of conduct.
Six months ago, SOLE submitted to Coleman a “Sweatfree” proposal, called the Designated Supplier Proposal, demanding the University cut contracts with all suppliers not on a list companies that respect worker’s rights.
Last Friday, SOLE members wore gags to a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights.
SOLE members marched to the Fleming Administration Building to present Coleman with a letter demanding a meeting by March 24 and a decision concerning the Sweatfree proposal by April 1.
Coleman was unable to meet with the group.
The University of Wisconsin at Madison, Georgetown University and Indiana University have codes similar to the University’s current one that only allow them to do business with companies that adhere to a certain set of human-rights standards.
Reyes said the elimination of sweatshops is important for the fair treatment of women who may be subject to sexual harassment, forced pregnancy tests and rape. The University is responsible because the vendor code of conduct prohibits these actions, he said.
“Eighty to 90 percent of those who work in sweatshops are women,” Reyes said.
Most of the students protesting were only semi-nude.
“I’m not looking to get on the sex offender’s list,” Reyes said.
LSA junior Drew Carrigan was the only female who stripped off clothing in protest.
“Being naked with rugby players, I can’t complain,” Carrigan said. “It’s a good way to get attention.”
Rugby club members said they hoped their actions were a step toward eliminating University sweatshop-made clothing.