Juggling Class Schedules and a Labor Movement

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September 23, 2011; Source: New York Times | For many people in the nonprofit sector, dedication to a cause both draws them to an organization and makes long work hours and other challenges manageable. A recent story in the New York Times looks at the work of some similarly cause-driven college students who even at this early point in the academic year have lent their support to an international labor movement started by a 14-year old nonprofit. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a grassroots nonprofit with 150 college chapters nationwide, is in the midst of a campaign against an apparel-producing division of the Dallas Cowboys, which the group claims has links to sweatshops abroad. Possessing a clear message and adept at working with the media, USAS has already drawn the attention of academic and corporate leaders nationwide.

The story focuses on Ohio State University, where USAS is leading a campaign against a proposed multi-million-dollar deal with Silver Star Merchandising, a Dallas Cowboys affiliate. Natalie Yoon, Ohio State’s USAS president, described the proposed deal with her institution as “very problematic.” She added, “Just skimming the surface, we found the Cowboys produced merchandise at four factories that have egregious sweatshop violations.”

Yoon also questions Ohio State’s “telescoped selection process” which she believes resulted in Silver Star being a favored provider. Echoing Yoon’s campus concerns from a national perspective is Teresa Chang, USAS’s international campaign coordinator, who told the Times, “We went to the Cowboys and asked them to tell us the name of one factory they used that complied with Ohio State’s code of conduct, and they couldn’t name a single factory.” 

As an indication that this movement is being taken seriously in both academic and corporate circles, the Times includes a response from Rick Van Brimmer, Ohio State’s director of trademark and licensing services, who said that the institution “would not consider a licensing deal with a company that did not take workers’ rights and codes of conduct seriously.” In addition, acknowledging that it, “like many other American apparel companies, has used some factories that had problems,” Silver Star told the Times it was working to improve conditions in those places. 

The success that USAS has achieved in raising the visibility of this debate might be an indication that the nonprofit sector will be seeing more of these young leaders in the future.—Anne Eigeman