(MintPress) – The United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national organization with chapters on 150 campuses, is organizing thousands of students across the U.S., pressuring university administrations to boycott Adidas after the clothing manufacturer failed to pay 2,800 Indonesian workers $1.8 million in severance pay.
More than 22 months after PT Kizone, an Adidas supplier closed its operations and thousands of low-wage workers continue to wait for compensation. Students across the U.S. have responded by urging their colleges and universities to not be complicit in these ongoing labor crimes.
Nearly 50 student organizations endorsed a student campaign at the University of Pittsburgh this month requesting the school’s administration reject sweatshop produced apparel and investigate factories where university-licensed products are manufactured. Joining a consortium to protect workers rights would require the university to pay 1 percent of profits from the sale of apparel, up to $50,000 annually to an independent watchdog group.
The request is part of a burgeoning student movement at 180 colleges and universities across the nation. Students working with the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC), a labor monitoring organization, have pressured colleges and universities to make investments in companies committed to fair labor practices.
Affiliated institutions receive assistance finding manufacturers that adopt fair labor practices. The Worker’s Rights Consortium investigates whether workers are “paid a living wage, are represented by a democratic union, and face none of the abusive labor conditions that continue to plague apparel workers around the world.”
Hundreds of universities big and small have signed on to the consortium since its founding in April 2000, including the University of Michigan, University of California Berkeley and the University of Miami.
University of Pittsburgh student and lead organizer Joe Thomas delivered letters from 25 student organizations in support of joining the WRC to Mark Nordenberg, the chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Moving the production of the University’s licensed apparel to a producer that respects worker’s rights would be a major shift for the University of Pittsburgh.
Nationwide, consumers have a voracious appetite for university apparel. According to the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), total sales for university apparel topped $4.6 billion in 2011. Sales figures have not been published for the University of Pittsburgh, but the CLC ranks the university among the top 50 sellers of merchandise.
Convincing the administration to join the consortium has been a challenge, even as student support for fair labor practices has grown tremendously on campuses. Leaders of Americans for Informed Democracy at Pitt, one of the leading student organizations pushing for the change, reports that Kathy Humphrey, Pitt’s vice provost and dean of students and vice chancellor G. Reynolds Clark, were not receptive to the ideas students were bringing forward.
We have workers dying by the dozens in Bangladesh in fires,” said Thomas, a student organizer. “That’s happening in 2012, more than a decade after universities started asking companies to protect the basic rights of workers in their supply chains.”
In order to build more support among the University of Pittsburgh’s more than 28,000 students, organizers have partnered with the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a national advocacy organization helping students advocate for fair labor investments on campus. USAS helped bring sweatshop workers to the University of Pittsburgh campus earlier this month.
Speaking through an interpreter, Indonesian factory workers Heni Sutisna and Aslam Hidayat, told students last week they were denied severance pay owed to them by Adidas.
“My husband became sick and began coughing up blood, but we were unable to take him to a doctor. In Indonesia, you eat rice every day. We couldn’t even afford rice,” Sutisna said.
Workers at Adidas factories in Indonesia claim that the company owes them more than $1.8 million in severance pay, a claim that the company disputes.
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