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Madison Activists Challenge Sweatshop Abuses

by Joe Mingle |
January 1, 1999
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Madison, WI - On December 10th, more than 40 students, union members, and church activists held a candlelight vigil and leafleted a local Wal-Mart. This action was part of a national day of action against Wal-Mart called by the National Labor Committee. Protesters demanded Wal-Mart release the list of factories where its apparel is manufactured.

"Without disclosure of the location of overseas factories, it's impossible for independent groups to monitor the working conditions under which these products are made," according to Samantha West, a UW student activist who helped found the Madison Anti-Sweatshop Coalition (MASC) at the UW.

The picket line coincided with the the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights. While store management was unmoved, activists educated shoppers, sang anti-sweatshop holiday carols, and even enjoyed hot chocolate while standing up for justice.

Student activists have been pressuring the University of Wisconsin to strengthen the recently-proposed Collegiate Licensing Corporation's Code of Conduct for athletic apparel manufacturers. If adopted, the CLC's proposed code would include approximately 160 universities and colleges nationwide and set minimum standards for working conditions at manufacturer's plants in the US and abroad. But the Code has been criticized for not including several critical provisions such as guarantees of living wages for workers and full disclosure of factory locations.

MASC has led the fight on campus to force the UW to include these critical provisions through an aggressive petition campaign, organizing several rallies, vocally participating in forums sponsored by the Chancellor, and reaching out to the broader community for support. "The University might try to adopt this watered down code and just hope we'll let it go, but we are building a strong coalition that will monitor their implementation and continue to fight for strengthening its provisions," said West.

Madison students, union workers, and other concerned activists are mobilizing to confront the corporations and institutions like the University that are complicit with the abuse of workers at home and in sweatshops abroad. While the fight is difficult, activists are committed to continue the struggle because they know that "an injury to one is an injury to all."