Sweatshop laborers in the world’s developing countries work in poorly ventilated factories for 10-14 hours a day. Breaks – to use the bathroom or to get a drink of water – are rare. They are cutting and stitching brand-name clothes for Americans. They get paid pennies a day.
When clothing made under these conditions appeared in UCSB’s Bookstore a few months ago, students complained.
"I got a message at 8:25 a.m. from the vice chancellor, and by noon there wasn’t a product made in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) in any UC bookstore," UCSB Bookstore Director Ken Bowers said. "We immediately called Jansport and told them we were outraged that they would send us clothing from a factory not on the list and not approved by us. We shipped all the product back and got a refund."
This quick removal might not have happened last year, before the University of California passed a list of mandates banning the sale of clothing made in factories not approved by the UC. The Code of Conduct, passed Jan. 7, 2000, restricts UC bookstores to buying University logo apparel from companies that disclose the location of their factories and provide workers with a living wage.
The five-member Advisory Group on Monitoring and Enforcement – made up of UC students and faculty – monitors bookstores and enforces the code. The group convened on Jan. 18 and met with representatives of large corporations. Shana Singh, a UCSB student and one of the five board members, said the purpose of the meeting was to get students, faculty and administrators to talk about sweatshops.
"At the meeting, I went to representatives from companies like Jansport, Nike, Adidas and Gear for Sports, [who] spoke about the steps they are taking as far as monitoring issues," she said. "There’s still not full-fledged monitoring in place right now. There is a situation in Mexico right now with a factory that makes clothes for UC Berkeley that hasn’t been resolved yet, and that will be a good test of the Code of Conduct and what the University will do about it."
Bowers said the UCSB bookstore follows the Code of Conduct formed by the UC.
"I personally am very dedicated to it, and I know my bookstore colleagues are as well," he said. "As bookstores, we helped write the code and are helping to enforce it. We are in direct participation with [the Campus Labor Action Coalition]. We are currently working on an experiment that would give students a choice when buying a T-shirt – between a shirt made by an offshore manufacturer or a U.S. union shop. It would be the same garment, same color, and same design with some information on the shelf about where and how it was made."
The efforts are a move in the right direction, but are still in the early stages, said Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, a CLAC member and assistant professor of Chicano studies.
"Right now there is a committee of faculty and students that is set up to monitor, making sure the university complies," he said. "As far as I know, the monitoring program hasn’t really started yet. It was a big step forward, but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding."
CLAC and its UC Berkeley equivalent were outspoken supporters of the Code before it passed last year. CLAC is working with other organizations such as Student Lobby and California Students Against Sweatshops to sponsor teach-ins and speakers.
CLAC is also helping the Santa Barbara Living Wage Coalition work to achieve a living wage of $11 per hour for county workers who receive benefits and $12.25 per hour for those without benefits.
"We’ll be participating in Worker Outreach, talking to workers who would be affected and getting them involved," Singh said. "Also, we will be organizing a march for economic justice in May, sometime around International Workers Day, May 1."
– Staff Writer Sarah Healy also contributed to this story.