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Sit-in at Administration Building Demands End to UNC Sweatshop Clothing

By Kosta Harlan |
April 18, 2008
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(Fight Back! News)
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Visit the UNC Sit-in website for more information and to support the protesters.

Chapel Hill, NC - Eight students are risking arrest by sitting in at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) administration headquarters, April 17, demanding that Chancellor Moeser take a stand in opposing the production of UNC clothing by sweatshop labor. Earlier, 50 students, faculty and staff rallied outside to show their solidarity with the sit-in. The protesters, members of the Carolina Sweatfree Coalition - a coalition of 20 student groups at UNC - are demanding that UNC cut ties with sweatshops and adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP).

Large amounts of UNC apparel are produced in Central American and South Asian sweatshops, where workers labor under degrading conditions, without union representation and struggle to survive on extremely low wages. Adopting the Designated Suppliers Program would ensure that university logoed apparel - UNC jerseys, sweatshirts, tee shirts and other clothing - is produced in factories where workers earn a living wage and have the right to collectively bargain with their employer.

The protests are part of a wave of student sit-ins that have swept across the country, as hundreds students from Appalachian State to Pennsylvania State to the University of Montana have held rallies and occupied administration buildings to demand their universities cut ties with sweatshops. The campaign is being organized by United Students Against Sweatshops. So far, over 42 universities have signed on to the Designated Suppliers Program.

For three years, students at UNC have been trying to convince university officials to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program. Their arguments have largely fallen on deaf ears. Organizers with the Carolina Sweatfree Coalition aim to increase the pressure on Chancellor Moesor with the sit-in and bring more attention to the ugly reality behind UNC’s apparel. “As UNC students we would like to wear our Carolina gear with pride,” said Salma Mirza, a senior history major at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Instead, due to Chancellor Moeser’s inaction, our clothes continue to be made in factories where workers don’t earn enough to support themselves, let alone their families.”

Yesterday Chancellor Moesor met with a delegation from the Coalition and rejected their proposal to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program. He argued that adopting the DSP would jeopardize the existence of the Carolina Covenant, the university’s scholarship program for low-income students, because the scholarship is funded by sales from licensed apparel. Today, Eva Panjwani, a sit-in participant and recipient of the Carolina Covenant scholarship, responded by saying, “As a Carolina Covenant Scholar, I feel that compromising the living and working conditions of others in order to fund my college education is unacceptable, especially from an institution that touts itself as ‘the university of the people.’”

The sit-in is set to continue until Chancellor Moesor commits to the Designated Suppliers Program. Another rally is also planned for tomorrow afternoon to continue to raise pressure.

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