President Spanier Finally Agrees To Open Dialouge

After three years of foot dragging and a total refusal to meet with concerned community members, President Graham Spanier has finally decided to meet with members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in order to seriously take on the issue that Penn State’s apparel is made in sweatshops.

This is a tribute to the efforts of the hundreds of community members who stood up to Mr. Spanier and demanded he work to solve this problem. From the over one hundred members of the community who helped deliver a letter to Mr. Spanier demanding him to sign onto the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), to the hundred man rally that demanded the voices of the university community be heard, to the 31 students who sat in when he refused to even engage them or the 200 person rally outside, Mr. Spanier now seems willing to meet with United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) to answer the sweatshop question.

As a new student in his first year at Penn State, I was shocked to learn that Penn State’s collegiate apparel was still made in sweatshops. Unfortunately, decades of activism have not resolved the issue. It’s shameful that brands continues to abuse workers and violate their human rights; worse yet that they will continue to do so until their buyers stand up to them and present them with an alternative.

That alternative is the DSP. The common response I hear from my peers when they don’t like something is, “Yeah, it sucks, but what can be done?” In the case of worker abuse in sweatshops, the DSP is the only thing that can be done at this point. All the previous methods of holding corporations accountable have failed.

Left to their own volition, companies will violate right after right of the workers in an attempt to minimize the cost of labor. The Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium attempted to fix this problem by monitoring factories and identifying problems, though they cannot keep up with the continual switching of factories. Oftentimes the apparel is being produced in a different factory before the improvements are realized in the first.

The DSP is something that must happen to protect apparel shop workers. I am glad Mr. Spanier is meeting with USAS so our concerns can be properly addressed. I’m confident that sweatshops will soon be properly recognized as a moral wrong that speaks ills of us all. I got involved with USAS to make the world a better place, not to theorize about legal risk.

I am hopeful that the upcoming meeting will be informative for both sides, and that progress will be made to brighten the future of impoverished workers in our collegiate apparel factories. Penn State is in a unique position to take the first steps to improving the broad issue of sweatshops by showing support of the principles of the DSP: safe working conditions, a living wage, and the right to organize and bargain collectively.

John Fitzgerald
USAS Member