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May 10, 1999 - Image 16

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1999-05-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

By Michael Grass -Daily News Editor
As a student activist fi hing for better working con littos
Iin factories that pro ucet handise fi r the -coIIgiate
1apparel industry SA junior Lee Palmer was wel11 atae
of pror conditions that exist injthe sweatshop industry.c
B3ut on a recent trip to (entral Amenia, her eyes were opened
further when she spoke with workers face-to-face.
"You really don't understand it until you 1r, k to the wom who
produce the apparel, she said.'

Palmer was one of three students who "In recent months we have achieved
traveled to Honduras and El Salvador tremendous victories in solidarity with
earlier this month with Charles workers of Honduras and the rest of the
Kernaghan, executive director of the world. We have forced our universities
National Labor Committee, on a fact- to commit themselves to better the
finding mission to investigate working working and living conditions of the
conditions in CentralAmerican factories. workers who produce our university
Only two months ago, Palmer and 29 apparel," Palmer said.
other students occupied University Kernaghan said the student presence
President Lee Bollinger's office for 51 on the trip helped in creating greater
hours as part of the actions taken by understanding about the student move-
University's Students Organizing for ment in the United States.
ILabor and Economic Equality. During "It's having an affect on students in
the sit-in, SOLE demanded that admin- Honduras," he said.
istrators call for stronger labor condi- As the delegation interviewed work-
tions in the collegiate apparel industry. ers, University of Arizona student
SOLE members said that, through Jennifer Johnson said she thought about
their protests, they were standing up for her friends .and colleagues who were
underpaid workers who labor in sweat- then-occupying the office of their presi-
shop conditions, dent, Peter Likins.
But Palmer and the other students Speaking with the workers, Johnson
brought the growing campus anti- said she became "recommitted" to the
sweatshop movement to those it aims to cause to improve working conditions.
protect - the workers. In interviews with Honduran and
"They didn't understand what our Salvadoran workers, the group learned
movc nent was all about," Palmer said, about low wages and poor factory con-
adding that the workers wondered why ditions.
U.S. university students cared about "I got really knocked over from what
their working conditions. the workers told us - it was really sad,"
During a press conference on April Kernaghan said.
29 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Palmer In H onduras, Kernaghan said some
explained in Spanish why U.S. students workers told him they only made an
cared about factory workers, telling the equivalent of 36 cents per hour --
crowd about the campus movement. which is below the national 42 cent
min i mum
wage set by
the Honduran
said when
local living
costs are fac-
tored in, such
wages barely
cover one-
third of aver-
age expenses.
almost like
said, but "this
doesn't really
shock us
we've seen it
time and time
S Palmer was
surprised to
f . hear similar
w o r k e r
DANA LINNANE/Dasiy responses to
LSAJunior Bram Elias protests outside the Fleming Administration questions in
Building on March 17 with anti-sweatshop protesters. regard to local

Ann Arbor resident and activist Kerstin Cornell rallies with other protesters outside,
the Fleming Administration Building on March 17 while anti-sweatshop
demonstrators occupy University President Lee Bollinger's office Inside.
living costs. "The workers feel pretty threatened
"I was surprised how consistent they when they speak out," Custodio said.
were in their answers - they knew Kernaghan said that monitoring fac-
exactly how much things cost ... because tories would be difficult because of the
they never have enough,' she said. threat the workers feel from factory
Workers also told Kernaghan and his owners.
group about poor factory ventilation. Workers told the group that produc-
increasing production quotas, timed tion supervisors or factory owners will
bathroom breaks, forced overtime, gruel- fire workers if they try to organize a
ing hours and other working conditions. union or report poor conditions.
"These people need these factory jobs. After realizing the difficulty of
The economy is so depressed that they implementing a monitoring system for
need these opportunities. But we aren't factories, Palmer said she changed her
going to stand around and let those labor views on the most effective ways to
practices continue," Palmer said. address the problem.
Even with recent increased attention "Monitoring is a Band-Aid, its not a
from the student movement, Palmer said long term solution," she said, adding
the issue of low wages and sweatshop that "the best monitor is a good
labor conditions will not be easy to solve. union."
"We're going to have to take a lot Though labor unions are present in
more trips ... but we have to continue to Central America, Palmer said their
work in solidarity with the workers," efforts are often stifled by corporations,
she said. factory owners and corrupt government
Ramon Custodio, founder and presi- officials.
dent of the Commission for the With their experiences of their trip
Defense of Human Rights in Honduras fresh in their memories, Kernaghan said
said lie and his colleagues in Central Palmer and the other students on the trip
America have been working on the will be to continue their work as part of
issue of poor working conditions for the student movement, aided by a
many years. broadened perspective on sweatshop
"We have been seeing slight improve- labor practices.
ments but we feel the workers are poor- "I think the single'most important
ly paid," Custodio said. thing of the trip was the reality test - if
He said that workers are very afraid you haven't been there, you don't know
of losing their jobs if they help expose the truth about the firings, the fear,"
sweatshop conditions in factories. Kernaghan said.

TiSe M chian mstudent Assembly passes,!reso
sltisn urging the niersity to commit to, itstsongi
code of conduct for licensed manufacturers, includ-
ing a living wvare, full pubice disclosure and indepen-
dent monitoring
-As part ofrit United Students Against
Sweatshop's national dai o action, 75 Unkersity
students march from Central Campus to
Weidenbach Hlail demanding the ulniversity and
the Collegiate Licensing Corporation- the licens-
ing agent that handles manuriacturing contracts
between the University and its apparel matamfactur-
ers - to pass. a strong Code osi cond ttor censed
Studns ati DkeI uni5ersityhold Sit-ina
dcrmonstration at Duke's administration building.
Students at C eorgetown University begin it sit-
in de monstration in their presidents offie.
A 97-11v 1 sit in begins at the saniersiyOf
Wisconsin at Madison in the oce of Chancellor
Davi ard
SOs. members urge University President
Bollinger and the university Board of Regents t
for stronger labor standards lor lcensed manufaetur-
So Lkmemibers enter s oilinger s office to
delver a leter u timatum, giiny sthe niersity
three weeks to meet their demands that the Lniversit\
deadalviwae scsrui cl i eihsr,ciim
is sai ss' -
More than 350 studens rally oi s the .
later marching to he scmin Adminiso 'n
iuilding demanding the civiersity meet si1s
30 s ii members storm and occupy
Bollingers offie while more than 100 1university stu-
dents and area residents rally to support the protesters.
555 issscsisy ii
SThe second day of the sit-in egins. More than
200 people ral1y for the No-sweat 30 Hollinge
releasesa newUniversity policyaitsshe Marchregents
meeting that includes 111ipublilcdisclosure assdscii
for i living wage.
- s he "No-Sweat 30" vacates Bosinser's occ
afters51 hours,.
Anti-sweatshop protesters at the university o1
North Caroina t C ihapel hi begin a 72-hour sit-in,
-Students at the Uniteristy of Arizona occupy
the ofie of President Peter ikis.
After 226 hours, students at is rina enss ci
occupation oL ikins oiice.

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