by Marko Gudic
Students at the University of Pittsburgh are taking a stand against sweatshops. The #NoSweat Campaign, spearheaded by the student group Americans for Informed Democracy (AIDPitt) and joined by over 50 student groups and organizations is trying to get Pitt’s administration to heed the concerns of its increasingly vocal student body.
During the fall of 2012, AIDPitt took on the cause of worker’s rights with the launch of its #NoSweat campaign. The first goal of the campaign is to get Pitt to affiliate with the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor rights monitoring organization. The WRC, currently affiliated with 180 universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, and most recently Temple, independently monitors and investigates working conditions in factories that produce university-licensed apparel. Additionally, the WRC serves as a mediator of potential workplace conflicts. WRC investigators ensure labor standards are upheld and codes of conduct are enforced.
AIDPitt is a non-partisan student advocacy group, co-founded by Joe Thomas and Rhodes Scholar Cory Rodgers. Since its founding in early 2011, AIDPitt has been dedicated to raising awareness on a number of global issues and has been working to create positive change to help solve them.
Student efforts to encourage Pitt to affiliate with the WRC have been largely disregarded or dismissed by obstinate university administrators. The #NoSweat campaign began its advocacy efforts with a series of letter drops to prominent administrators, petitioning for Pitt’s affiliation with the WRC. In response, Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey and Vice Chancellor G. Reynolds Clark expressed their content with the Fair Labor Association, or FLA (which Pitt is currently affiliated with). They also voiced doubts about the level of student support for the WRC affiliation.
However, AIDPitt and the #NoSweat Coalition contend that the FLA suffers from a conflict of interest. They state that the FLA is insufficient in ensuring workers’ rights because the FLA is funded by the same corporations it monitors. They point out that the FLA uses third-party contractors to conduct its investigations—many of which fail to properly and consistently evaluate conditions.
Activists generally favor the WRC because it is independent funded by universities, grants, and donations, which removes the conflict of interest that the FLA suffers from. The WRC has a reputation for fairly conducting its investigations and presenting honest reports. Although it is by no means perfect, affiliation with the WRC would be a step forward for Pitt protecting worker rights.
The #NoSweat campaign continues to grow and has received attention from media outlets such as The Pitt News, Pitt Political Review, The Tartan, WPTS radio, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The campaign remains committed to broadening its student base by distributing educational materials, videos, and WRC support pins. Recently, AIDPitt reached out to the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and hosted two former Indonesian garment factory workers, Heni Sutisna and Aslam Hidayat. Heni and Aslam spoke to a packed room of students about their experience producing apparel for major brands such as Adidas.
AIDPitt and the rest of the #NoSweat Campaign remains determined to keep the pressure on at Pitt. They hope Pitt will affiliate with the WRC before the end of the spring semester. For more information about the campaign or to sign up for regular emails about the #NoSweat Campaign, go to nosweatpitt.com.
Marko Gudic is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.