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Loyola students join fight against sweatshops

Loyola press release - February 19, 2000

Everyday, students, faculty, and staff stream in and out of the university bookstore to buy clothes that bear the Loyola University logo. Do they ever stop to think about where the clothes were manufactured?

Some Loyola students did and found that a majority of the bookstore’s merchandise was made in sweatshops in developing countries. According to Loyola’s mission statement, the university supports economic justice for both men and women. Hence, sweatshops are a taboo. To combat the problem, Katie Witry, president of the Loyola University Sociology Student Organization (LUSSO) and Amber Ramanauskas, chair of the Loyola University Community Action Program (LUCAP), attended the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) conference in Washington, D.C., in July 1999. The conference focused on ways to increase awareness, education, and concern for the plight of sweatshop workers. LUCAP funded their trip and upon their return, Witry and Ramanauskas approached the university administration and brought the problem to their attention.

USAS is an international coalition of over 200 student groups working on anti-sweatshop campaigns across the country. Its goals are to facilitate communication between the universities and act as a resource for information on the anti-sweatshop movement. This group defines a sweatshop as the systematic violation of one or more fundamental workers’ rights that have been codified in international and U.S. law. The sweatshops generally pay wages that do not permit workers to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and their families. Work hours are so long that education and a decent family life are not achievable. This group encourages other universities to join in its fight to stop sweatshop practices and improve workers’ rights.

Witry and Ramanauskas formed the Loyola University Students Against Sweatshops (LUSAS), an on-campus chapter of the international organization. The Loyola group consists of 10 students whose goal is to educate the Loyola community about sweatshops. LUSAS’ first accomplishments were to define the university’s role regarding sweatshops and encourage the university to become a member of the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC).

The WRC is a group of universities, religious groups, and human rights groups opposed to corporate monitoring of sweatshops. Members believe corporate monitoring is problematic due to corporate investments, language barriers, and workers’ fear to talk to representatives. Rather, it seeks to enforce human rights and religious groups already present in those countries suspected of sweatshop activity and to investigate and report their findings based on a code of conduct designed to protect workers’ human rights. These reports will be sent to each member university. Loyola became a member of the WRC for the 1999 - 2000 academic year in December and allocated $1,500 in funding to the organization. Loyola joins with Brown University and Haverford University in Pennsylvania.

Loyola’s code of conduct and a letter requesting full disclosure of company information concerning locations and worker conditions were sent on January 31 to all manufacturers handling Loyola’s apparel merchandise. Loyola and their merchandise provider, Follett, will decide from which companies they will buy their merchandise based on the replies received. However, LUSAS will not boycott those companies using sweatshops. The group will inform manufacturers that they must change their factory regulations and eliminate the vow of secrecy of the garment industry.

"If there was a boycott, the workers would lose their jobs. We don’t want that to happen. We want the industry to clean up its act and realize human rights should transcend profits," Witry says. "The goal of LUSAS and the WRC is not to close the sweatshops, just to change them. Two hundred universities agreeing not to buy merchandise until sweatshop conditions change will have a major impact on the industry."

On February 19, 2000, LUSAS will hold an educational conference for New Orleans area universities from noon to 7 p.m. in the Audubon Room at Loyola University. Those interested are encouraged to attend. Later this semester, LUSAS will form a task force of Loyola students and faculty to review the response letters of the factories and, in conjunction with other local universities, will start an anti-sweatshop campaign, Ramanauskas says.