On Nov. 16, Purdue University students marched into their administration’s office and refused to leave until the administration adopted the Designated Suppliers Program. They chained themselves together at the neck with bicycle U-locks to prevent the police from moving them. Later that afternoon, the administration threatened to suspend all the students involved for the remainder of this semester and the next. The students left the president’s office and began a peaceful protest their administration could not punish them for: a hunger strike. That was 17 days ago. What could be so important for these students to refuse food for 17 days?

The Designated Suppliers Program is an initiative to end the use of sweatshop labor in the manufacturing of university apparel. Universities like Purdue and the University of Michigan require the companies that produce their clothing to uphold basic standards for working conditions. The problem, as universities well know, is that these codes of conduct are not enforced.

University President Mary Sue Coleman herself has acknowledged the ineffectiveness of the University’s codes. Companies are free to “cut and run” from compliant factories in a race to find the cheapest possible production.

The DSP goes to the root of the problem by requiring companies to pay their factories the actual cost of operation in compliance with labor standards. It lists many factories already in compliance — ones that pay decent wages and allow the formation of unions. Instead of signing a code of conduct, clothing companies are required to use designated factories.

Thirty schools across the country have adopted the DSP. Schools like the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Georgetown, Duke, Cornell and Columbia (whose president is former University of Michigan President Lee Bollinger) – not to mention the entire University of California system – have acknowledged that their codes of conduct do not do enough to stop sweatshop labor. As more and more schools sign on, the power they have to affect conditions in the garment industry rises exponentially. As one of the nation’s largest licensers of university apparel, the University has a crucial role to play in this movement.

Purdue’s hunger-striking students are part of a national campaign to enact the DSP by United Students Against Sweatshops. The University’s affiliate, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, has been pressuring the administration to sign on for almost a year and a half. During this time DSP has been stalled, ignored and discredited by the President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights. A similar committee was created at Purdue, also to stall and divert attention away from the DSP. Many of the Purdue students’ actions, including the occupation of their president’s office, were a result of the committee’s refusal to seriously consider the DSP.

It is university presidents like Coleman who have the power to put an end to sweatshop labor in the manufacturing of university apparel and to protect hundreds of thousands of workers worldwide from exploitation and abuse. You can support the students who are putting their lives at risk at Purdue by visiting www.purduehungerstrike.org. You can also join SOLE and students at the University of California in fasting all day Tuesday in solidarity with the students at Purdue. Stop by our table in Angell Hall to learn more about the DSP here and around the nation.

Noah Link is an LSA senior. Blase Kearney is an LSA sophomore. Neal Sardana is a Public Policy-Public Health graduate student. The viewpoint authors are members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.

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