United Students Against Sweatshops
|United Students Against Sweatshops|
|Abbreviation||USAS (pronounced "you-sass")|
|Type||Student activist organization|
|Purpose/focus||To work in solidarity with working peoples' struggles; to struggle against racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms of oppression within our society, within our organizations, and within ourselves; to build a grassroots student movement that challenges corporate power and that fights for economic justice; and to strive to act democratically.|
|Membership||250+ chapters & thousands of individuals|
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student organization with chapters at over 250 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. In April 2000, USAS founded the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent monitoring organization that investigates labor conditions in factories that produce collegiate apparel all over the world. The WRC exacts an annual membership fee from participating universities, which is used to fund its monitoring work.
The WRC works with NGOs, human rights groups, and local labor unions or federations, in countries where collegiate apparel is produced. At present over 180 universities and colleges have affiliated with the WRC. USAS is also proposing that universities strengthen the WRC's effectiveness by signing on to the Designated Suppliers Program, or DSP, which would act to source collegiate apparel from factories that respect workers' rights to form unions and be paid living wages. As of Fall 2008, 44 colleges have signed on to the DSP.
In 2000, Nike and other major clothing corporations renamed the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP) the Fair Labor Association (FLA), in large part to compete with the WRC. The AIP, an initiative of the Clinton Administration, had become a discredited organization, because all non-profit organizations and unions that had initially supported it, withdrew from it, with the exception of the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), who subsequently withdrew their institutional membership on the FLA Board soon afterwards.
United Students Against Sweatshops is widely viewed as the largest anti-sweatshop community group in the United States and Canada. It was formed in 1997 as part of a broader anti-sweatshop movement increasingly popular in North America. This movement exhibited a great degree of skepticism of free trade practices, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
Focusing on domestic as well as international sweatshops, the group has built coalitions of students, labor groups, workers, and community members that focus on a broad range of campaigns:
- supporting an anti-sweatshop policy called the Designated Suppliers Program, which would source collegiate apparel from factories that respect workers' rights to form unions and be paid living wages
- supporting the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' campaign against Taco Bell to win higher wages for farm laborers ("Boot the Bell")
- protesting sweatshop working conditions at New Balance in New York and Forever 21 in San Francisco
- living wage campaigns for campus workers
- organizing student labor solidarity groups in high schools
- protesting Coca-Cola's repression of union organizers in Colombia
- supporting labor campaigns in local communities
- increased minimum wage campaigns in several states and localities
- protesting against Jessica Matthews, board member of Hanes and president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in relation to sweatshop conditions for Hanes workers in the Dominican Republic.
The group is based on the idea that students and community members can act in solidarity with working peoples' struggles locally and around the world. Because colleges and universities are supposed to be accountable to their communities, especially their students, USAS members have tried to leverage the business power of their schools to support workers on and off campus. For example, because universities license their names and logos to clothing brands, such as Nike, who then subcontract orders to other companies that further subcontract work to thousands of different factories, USAS considers the licensing stage as a way to force apparel corporations to stop exploiting workers in sweatshops. Although USAS started by focusing on international anti-sweatshop campaigns, the organization has broadened its definition of sweatshops to support workers' struggles in farm-fields, prisons, local communities and college campuses. USAS considers "all struggles for a better world and an alternative to the current structure of the global economy to be directly or by analogy a struggle against sweatshops." Today, USAS groups primarily focus on anti-sweatshop campaigns and working in solidarity with campus workers, or unions in local college communities.
The group has taken as its motto the quote "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together" by the aboriginal Australian activist Lilla Watson.
- Worker Rights Consortium
- International Labour Organization conventions
- 180/Movement for Democracy and Education
- Mahoney, Jack (2008-03-13). "TOS Workers' Protest Hanes Boardmember Jessica Matthews". Georgetown Solidarity Committee. Retrieved 2008-03-15.[dead link]
- Students Against Sweatshops Book by journalist Liza Featherstone about USAS (ISBN 1-85984-302-6)
- Economist John Miller on sweatshops and USAS organizing in Dollars & Sense magazine
- "About" section of USAS' website