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Students Affect Change to School’s Sweatshop Policies

Hey, what would kids do if they weren't making our shoes and wallets?
And to think of all the sweatpants I bought from them. Mine are covered in grass, mud, and food stains, but after hearing about this, they just feel dirty.

An aggressive national campaign put forth by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is calling for all university presidents to boycott Russell Athletic, a leading manufacturer in university-themed clothing. And to many students’ surprise (let’s face it, students protest pretty much everything), it has actually worked.

The movement predates almost 10 years, but it really picked up momentum after Jan. 30, 2009, when Russel Athletic decided to close its Jerzees de Honduras plant due to issue disputes with labor unions, which subsequently left approximately 1,200 workers out of jobs. Quite simply, the workers were being treated like shit and they unionized. Russell Athletic didn’t like unions, so they gave the unions the finger and shut the plant down entirely.

As you could imagine, this enraged a lot of people – not just the thousands of union workers out of jobs down in Honduras, but also a lot of people in the US, Canada, and the UK. That’s where USAS steps in.

It’s always a monumental moment when an organization of students can come together and effectively influence company policies. And in this particular case, the USAS organized aggressively on the Penn State Campus, as well as hundreds of other universities, to get them to join the cause – and they were successful. The factory was soon re-opened and thousands of Hondurans got their jobs back.

“It is clear that students hold a lot of potential for change, both nationally and locally,” said Alanna Pawlowski (junior-journalism and Political Science). Which is weird, because general consensus says that students are exactly that – students – and their efforts to influence any social change appears futile. Well, not exactly.

However, as a consequence of Russell Athletic reinstating the factory and adopting new, fairer policies, labor costs may rise, and their prices MAY be driven up. But that doesn’t really matter, as Penn State has severed all its ties with Russell Athletic due to the controversy, so your Penn State clothes may soon bear different tags on them. No biggie, Russell clothing isn’t all that comfortable anyway. But on the plus side, thousands of people get their jobs back. So you decide which is ultimately the better outcome here.

About the Author

Tom Kent

I was born in Virginia Beach, raised in Westfield, NJ, went to college at Penn State, moved to Miami, FL. Peruvian on mom's side and English on my Dad's. I'm a Journalism major and Political Science minor. I do not currently own any reptiles.

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