Michigan State University uses sweatshop labor to make almost all of its apparel. Like Mos Def and Talib Kweli rap, “Everything you see, ain’t really how it be.” No one tells us when we buy a sweatshirt that it was made by a malnourished child who has to work more than 12 hours a day in backbreaking pain; instead our administration must assume that we are so brainless and apathetic that we would never realize the reality of this slave labor.
Students for Economic Justice (SEJ) and Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan (MEXA), two campus activist groups, have united to change this by demanding that our university’s administrators join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). On September 6, 2004 – this past Labor Day – SEJ and MEXA decided to join together to end MSU’s affiliation with sweatshop labor overseas.
Nearly every item of Michigan State clothing is made in unmonitored conditions with exploited labor. Our administration tries to hide this from its students. But look at the tag of any piece of MSU apparel you own and read where it is made. The reality is the lifestyle of the workers in these less economically powerful nations can be brutal, shocking, and more than enough to outrage the average person. We, the students, are oppressed. We may morally refuse to support the destruction of human rights that occurs in these factories, but we want to be proud of our university and carelessly wear our school colors. SEJ and MEXA demand that the administration stop allowing sweatshop labor to be connected with MSU. We can no longer support this compromise of human life; we need to join the WRC.
If signed on to the WRC all factories that produce MSU apparel will be held accountable for human rights violations. Students, school administrators and labor rights specialists visit factories and communicate with the laborers to attempt to prevent any cruel treatment. The WRC empowers the workers to organize unions and stand up for their rights. The changes that are made in factories affiliated with the WRC are the result of what the workers want: no outside force is telling them what is best for them.
It is an organization based on the democratic idea of transparency; every college on the WRC has the ability to read the detailed public reports and decide if the factories coincide with that particular university’s code of conduct, which should ensure humane conditions. Therefore, universities associated with the WRC can pressure corporations to respect workers’ rights by threatening to restrict their access to our logo. Nine of the Big 10 universities and over 129 universities around the nation are signed on to the WRC.
On March 16, 2000, SEJ met with President M. Peter McPherson to urge him to sign MSU with the WRC, and drop our affiliation with the misleadingly named Fair Labor Association (FLA). Almost five years of urging has passed and nothing has happened. The FLA is a failed organization- since its founding in 1999 it has released one ‘annual’ report (2003), has no public transparency, and gives veto power over all decisions to companies that profit directly from treating workers poorly. What it does do is provide a cop-out for administrators who want to “prove” to students that they are doing something about the sweatshop issue without making a commitment to independent monitoring, which they believe might offend their licensees. The cost of either the FLA or the WRC is only 1 percent of our school’s budget, so we should be using the one that works better.
While workers get paid pennies for a t-shirt we will buy for upwards of 10 dollars, our university’s administration sits back and idly watches. While sexual harassment and physical pain are endured in factories our school helps fund, our university’s administration feigns ignorance. While the university could drop the FLA and join the WRC without any extra costs for the students or the school, our administration refuses. We are tired of getting ripped off, and we have had enough.
The answer to this problem does not fall into a ballot box. In 2001 ASMSU passed a bill to support the WRC and the MSU administration ignored them. For the last five years local politicians have been no help. SEJ and MEXA realize that to be successful in our quest to restore our school’s dignity we must follow the examples of the other successful university movements with organized continuous direct action and nonstop agitation.
Alright, so let’s change it. Talk is cool but is fake without action. Email MSU’s Board of Trustees at http://trustees.msu.edu/contact.html, President M. Peter McPherson at mcpher20@msu.edu, and future President Lou Anna K. Simon at laksimon@msu.edu, and tell them we need to join the WRC. Come to the MEXA meetings at 8pm on Sundays in the CRU room in the basement of Wilson hall. Come to the SEJ meetings at 8pm on Tuesdays in the Minnesota room in the third floor of the union. Let’s take back our school and take action to correct our tainted moral standing.

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