Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops march to Old Queens
For the past year, the Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (RUSAS) has been promoting their “30% Campaign” demanding that Rutgers administration source at least 30 percent of the apparel sold in the Barnes and Noble bookstore on the College Avenue campus from factories that pay their workers a prevailing wage and allow collective bargaining.
Yesterday, after gathering around 50 signatures on a banner for their campaign, members of USAS stood outside Old Queens on the College Avenue campus in hopes of confronting Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi about the issue, said Sivan Rosenthal, a member of RUSAS.
After waiting outside of Old Queens for ten minutes, Rosenthal said the University president exited the building and told members of USAS who approached him that supports their work.
While Rutgers currently sources 10 percent of Barnes and Noble apparel from factories with humane working conditions, the School of Arts and Sciences sophomore said the University could bump that number to 30 percent.
Members of USAS are scheduled to meet with lower-level administrators on April 22 to discuss the campaign, which they have already done twice this year, Rosenthal said. The students have yet to meet with Barchi, who Rosenthal said is the only person with the power to change the apparel contracts, but USAS has met with Felicia McGinty and Richard L. Edwards in the past.
"It seems there was some miscommunication between us before about what the program actual entails, which is why maybe they thought (the campaign) wasn't possible to implement at Rutgers before," she said. "We are looking to explain why (30 percent) could work at this school."
The appropriate university administrators and other decision makers have been engaged with USAS over the past few years on a variety of issues, including this one, said E.J. Miranda, a Rutgers spokesperson, in an email.
Rutgers has been a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) since 1999, an international organization that combines the efforts of businesses, civil society organizations and universities to protect workers’ rights and improve working conditions worldwide, promoting adherence to international labor standards, Miranda said in the email.
Rutgers is also a member of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor rights monitoring organization that conducts investigations of conditions in factories worldwide, Miranda said.
"We look forward to continuing to make progress with USAS because Rutgers University has a long and proud history of supporting workers’ rights and promoting safe working conditions around the world," he said.
Rosenthal said the meeting with administrators will likely be different from meetings in the past because the campaign has had time to grow and build. Last semester, the administration told USAS members to do research on the topic and figure out the financial aspect of the situation.
The members of USAS work with the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), which Rutgers and many other universities around the country fund, Rosenthal said. After working with the WRC, Rosenthal said it is clear there are three possible apparel factories that produce ethically, but Rutgers only sources about 3 to four percent of apparel from one of those factories.
"Now we are fully prepared to say we know we have the power to implement this," Rosenthal said.
There are two other colleges in the United States that are currently running the same campaign, the University of Illinois-Chicago and Grand Valley State University, Rosenthal said. Rutgers has already been "revolutionary" in their support for sweat-free apparel, which was exemplified when the University cut sourcing last year from multiple companies producing in sweatshop conditions.
"We have been doing research this whole semester to make sure that when we do meet with administrators on the 22nd, we have all our facts in order and present a clear case on why this is possible," Rosenthal. "...This is going to create a market for sweat-free apparel, which is essential."