United Students Against Sweatshops
|Abbreviation||USAS (pronounced "you-sass")|
|Type||Student activist organization|
|Purpose||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.|
|250+ chapters & thousands of individuals|
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a student organization founded in 1998 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:
- requesting that Russell Brands Athletic Brand significantly altered its labor policies in Central America
- 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.
Campus Worker Justice
Workers across the United States are facing an uncertainty in the workplace that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. Our generation is constantly reminded that we are the first generation to be financially worse off than our parents. The biggest concern for many university students is not whether we’ll be able to find good jobs, but any jobs after graduating. It’s becoming clear that when conditions deteriorate for the lowest paid workers, the standards drop for all workers. When bosses refuse basic rights on the job and bust unions for low-wage service workers, there’s no telling who’s next on the chopping block. A good union job is essential to keeping all of society out of poverty and holding back the greed of the wealthy elite.
Campus workers and USASers have been fighting and winning just working conditions and union representation for over 15 years together. In 1999, across the University of Tennessee system, students and workers in Progressive Student Alliances across the state launched Living Wage campaigns from Memphis to Knoxville, leading to the founding of the United Campus Workers union. From 1999 to 2002, the Harvard Living Wage campaign rocked Cambridge, Massachusetts for over four years as students campaigned alongside dining hall workers, janitors, and security guards to win union representation and unprecedented wage increases. Students Toward A New Democracy (STAND) was on the front lines at the University of Miami when janitors employed by UNICCO went on strike for union representation in 2006 and later threatened another strike for a fair contract in 2010.
Most recently, the USAS affiliate, the Progressive Student Alliance at Northeastern University, mobilized over 40 campus organizations and over 500 students and faculty to support Chartwells food service workers as they became the largest university shop of UNITE HERE Local 26.
At a time when anti-worker politicians and corporations are uniting more than ever to squeeze the most out of the lowest paid workers in America, students and workers must unite to show that we will be the combined force to be reckoned with and will fight to set a higher standard for all workers starting with our campus workers.
Garment Worker Solidarity
USAS is committed to organizing in solidarity with garment workers to fight sweatshop conditions such as poverty wages, forced overtime, sexual harassment, union busting, and health and safety violations in the global apparel industry
From the beginning, USAS has identified the reckless business practices of apparel brands as the root cause of sweatshops. We also know that the only way to beat the brands and end sweatshop conditions is to help build a global labor movement that could take on the real bosses of the apparel industry on a transnational scale.
Using our unique leverage as students attending universities with multimillion-dollar apparel programs, USAS has run campaigns on campuses across the country to force apparel brands to respect workers rights. First, we demanded that our universities tell brands to disclose the locations of the factories producing collegiate apparel; then we pushed universities to adopt labor codes of conduct that set minimum standards for collegiate apparel production; then we compelled our schools to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, the only independent apparel monitoring organization; and most recently we have campaigned for our universities to adopt a comprehensive sweat-free solution, called the Designated Suppliers Program.
Using all of these tools, USAS has waged strategic struggles alongside garment worker unions in the global South to demand that brands respect workers’ rights to living wages and safe working conditions, as well as the right to form democratic unions. Through international solidarity, USAS and workers have been able to achieve some of the anti-sweatshop movement’s landmark victories.
Kick Wall Streat Off Campus
- Worker Rights Consortium
- International Labour Organization conventions
- 180/Movement for Democracy and Education
- Kimura-Walsh, Erin; Walter R. Allen (2008). "Globalization from above, globalization from below: Mechanisms for social disparity and social justice in higher education" 6. pp. 201–230. doi:10.1016/S1479-358X(08)06008-7. ISSN 1479-358X.
- Brand Responsibility Project Records 2004-2012.0.84 cubic feet (2 boxes) of textual materials plus 83.8 GB of digital files.
- 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
- USAS' website