Administration adopts worker-friendly policy
Take a look around Bowdoin and you'll find the majority of the student body decked out in Bowdoin sweatshirts, black and white t-shirts, and Polar Bear hats. A recent decision by the Bowdoin Bookstore to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) ensures these products, and others bookstore items, are manufactured in factories with humane working conditions.
By joining the Worker Rights Consortium, Bowdoin will work with a network of 118 other colleges and universities, including nearby rival Colby College.
The WRC is responsible for monitoring the brands that Bowdoin purchases and making certain that their standards meet those set forth by the College. In exchange, Bowdoin must pay an annual affiliation fee.
The Worker Rights Consortium has exposed several factories that violate health and safety violations. One such violation was discovered at the Kukdong plant in the state of Puebla, Mexico; where workers were denied the rights to assemble, organize, and bargain with employers. While many third-world nations such as Mexico have human rights laws, more often than not, they fail to enforce them.
The WRC, in an effort to work outside of the government, teamed up with the AFL-CIO (a local support organization) to persuade Nike (the parent company) to improve conditions in the factory and allow workers to form a union. As a result, a union is now in place to negotiate and improve wages, benefits, and working conditions. While stories such as this are not common, they provide the WRC with motivation to continue fighting for workers' rights.
Sophomore David Duhalde became involved with the anti-sweatshop movement while attending high school, and continued his work in college by joining the Students for Democratic Socialism.
When the idea to join the WRC was first suggested at Bowdoin, it wasn't met with much enthusiasm. Still, Duhalde and his co-members were persistent, setting up tables with sewing machines and inviting students to sew their own clothes and realize the difficulty of such a task.
"Our goal was merely to inform people and not rush in," said Duhalde.
The turning point for the campaign came after a talk by anti-sweatshop activist Richard Applebaum. Author of the book No Sweat, Applebaum's talk caught the attention of Bowdoin students, and, more importantly, the Administration.
The Bookstore immediately began discussing the possibility of an affiliation with the WRC. Duhalde was surprised by the ease in which the decision was finally made.
"I had always heard of these great battles between administration and students over the WRC. At Bowdoin, we had none of that," he said.
Some faculty members are confident that the College's affiliation with the WRC is a step in the right direction. "Hopefully [the efforts of the WRC] will raise minimum standards globally and mitigate against the 'race to the bottom' that is so common in our global assembly lines," said Sociology and Anthropology professor Joe Bandy.
For more information about the WRC and its affiliates, visit www.workersrights.org.
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