Activism 1, apathy 0

University President Judith Rodin reached an agreement with Penn Students Against Sweatshops (PSAS) Feb. 14, after the group staged a eight-day sit-in outside Rodin’s office. PSAS was protesting Penn’s membership in the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which monitors factories for sweatshop conditions. To make sure that clothing with the Penn logo is not produced with sweatshop labor, PSAS members want Penn to enroll in another monitoring group, Worker Rights Consortium, which, unlike the FLA, does not include members of the apparel industry.

Rodin agreed to withdraw from the FLA pending the report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sweatshop Labor. We asked people on different sides of the issue about the protest, the compromise and the state of student activism in general.

Miriam Joffe-Block (C’00), coordinator, PSAS
“Students can’t change the entire global economy, but because of our link to the University, [the protest] is a way for students to approach it.
   “I feel good about the outcome of the sit-in. I feel the most important thing is we withrdrew from the FLA. It’s really important to get the message out that we aren’t going to tolerate this corporate self-regulation.”

Adrian Jones (W’01)
“Speaking for myself as a campus conservative, and not as a College Republican, I believe that the goal of campus activism and fair working conditions is laudable, but using Rodin’s office as a dormitory was a strong-arm attempt to blackmail the university into taking action before administrators and students had time to consider the complex issues involved.
   “For example, we have a substantial sweatshop problem here in the U.S. ... Unless we want to be hypocrites, I suggest that the U.S. ought to clean up its act before imposing its will upon sovereign foreign nations.”

Jonas Fang (EAS’03), unaffiliated student
“I think protesting sweatshops is a good cause and all, but I wonder how much Penn can really do to effect change. And I wonder if the people in charge of the sweatshops even know that Penn is protesting.”

Juliana Bauer (C’03), member, United Students Against Sweatshops
“I’m ecstatic to announce that I have finally found an organization that not only represents a cause, but also progresses the cause which it represents.
   “Did someone mention something about apathy? I haven’t seen it for weeks.”

Originally published on March 2, 2000