BOULDER — Six University of Colorado students who chained themselves to sewing machines in front of the chancellor’s office Thursday morning to emphasize the cruelty of sweatshop labor celebrated victory Thursday evening.
Vice Chancellor Paul Tabolt announced to the protesters that CU will join the Worker Rights Consortium, a national group that monitors working conditions in apparel factories in developing nations.
The students, members of the World Worker Justice Committee, said in mid-morning that they didn’t plan to eat or leave until interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano met a list of anti-sweatshop demands.
The women beseeched CU to join 130 U.S. universities and colleges that make up the consortium, which monitors factory conditions where university apparel is manufactured.
Tabolt had previously said the university would decide by May 1 whether to join the WRC. The campus’ Licensing Advisory Committee had been studying the issue for several months.
“I believe this action will help the campus further its efforts to ensure safe and humane working conditions for affected workers,” Tabolt said in a press release.
When the university joins the WRC, it will have to disclose information to the organization about the 3,400 locations where CU apparel is manufactured.
The women protesters started their sit-in in the chancellor’s office at about 6 a.m. and were quickly asked to leave.
They re-established their camp, complete with sewing machines and huge jars of water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and maple syrup — brought as sustenance — just outside the door, where they were later informed of CU’s decision to join the WRC.
As part of their demonstration, the women also demanded that all companies that manufacture CU clothing submit to independent monitoring for human rights violations or have their “BuffGear” license revoked.
Rape, forced abortion, sexual assault and starvation wages are among the top violations of companies that run sweatshops, according to the protesters.
“We demand these basic standards are put into full effect at CU, without further ‘looking into the matters above,’ without further delay, without further excuses and without further bureaucracy,” the women said in a statement.
The university since 2001 has been affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, an organization similar to the WRC, which monitors working conditions at apparel factories.
Student protesters concerned with worker rights at the time suggested the university join the WRC. In 2001, CU officials created a “BuffGear” licensing policy and code of conduct for companies that make clothing with CU’s name, marks and logo, but decided not to become affiliated with the WRC.
Since then, the university has been monitoring both the FLA and the WRC.
“What we have learned is that they provide a complementary service, in terms of figuring out what’s going on,” Tabolt said.
Members of the World Worker Justice Committee believe the only way to protect women and children who make CU clothing is for CU to support independent monitoring. They believe corporate conflicts dilute the effectiveness of Fair Labor Association monitors.
Both the FLA and WRC attempt to stop human rights violations in factories by working with the companies, but differ on the level and type of monitoring as well as the makeup of their membership.
Jenn Ooton can be reached at
303-684-5295, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.