CORRECTION: A story in yesterday’s edition of the Daily misspelled the name of a member of Students Organizing for Freedom and Economic Equality. His name is Saamir Rahman.
The student activist group that six years ago pushed the University to adopt a policy against using clothing companies that violate workers’ rights is now demanding a revamped inspection process to ensure the policy is enforced.
The group, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, claims factories that manufacture collegiate apparel – brands such as Nike, Reebok, Adidas and Champion – are not adhering to the University’s vendor code of conduct because of a flawed and insufficient factory inspection process.
“The code is not enforced to any meaningful extent,” said Sam Rahman, a SOLE member and former Daily opinon writer.
SOLE members ran a mock sweatshop yesterday on the Diag, sewing a banner and then bringing it to University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office with a list of demands as part of their new anti-sweatshop campaign.
The University instituted the code in 1999, following a SOLE-led campaign that culminated in a 51-hour sit-in in the Fleming Administration Building. Thirty students stormed then-University President Lee Bollinger’s office in support of humane treatment of workers who make University apparel.
However, Rahman said factories in China and other countries are not paying employees a living wage and owners will fire employees if they are found to be discussing union formation, a clear violation of workers’ rights and the code of conduct .
The five-page letter, delivered to Coleman’s assistant, Erika Hrabec, included demands such as monitoring, fair pricing, living wage, freedom of association, transparency and disclosure.
Hrabec said Coleman was out of town for the day but would be presented with the information Thursday morning.
SOLE’s campaign is part of a national movement organized by United Students Against Sweatshops. Students at more than 40 other colleges across the country are holding similar demonstrations to kick off the national campaign against the production of collegiate apparel in sweatshop conditions.
SOLE held a mock raffle to win a day’s wage – a quarter, they said – for a sweatshop worker. The group also gathered signatures on a petition for the University to join the sweat-free campaign.
SOLE member and RC sophomore Adri Miller said the group had collected about 400 signatures from students, faculty and staff in the four hours they were on the Diag. The petition was delivered along with the letter to Coleman’s office.
Jory Hearst, RC junior and SOLE member, said she was surprised by how much students knew about the University and sweatshop labor.
“People have totally engaged in good conversation with me,” Hearst said. She added that, compared with three years ago, the student population seems to be much more educated on the issue.
Miller said SOLE is targeting Coleman on the issue because “she’s the one who can make changes.”
In the past, labor issues at the University have been handled by the Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights. Rahman said their demands would probably be deferred to the committee, which has not yet been in session this year. Lawrence Root, chair of the committee and a School of Social Work professor, said in an interview with The Michigan Daily that he hoped to have the committee’s membership finalized soon for a first meeting on October 7.
Rahman criticized the committee for waiting until October to begin its work, saying it has already wasted a quarter of the semester.
“Obviously they don’t plan to act on this,” Rahman said.
Two spots on the committee are to be held by students, and Rahman said two SOLE members have applied for the positions but must undergo an interview process.