United Students Against Sweatshops protests working conditions in Mexican factories

In the wake of the firing of Nike-related sweatshop workers in Mexico, student groups on more than 20 university campuses rallied together on Wednesday to protest Nike sweatshops and their monitoring agents, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

The event was sponsored by United Students Against Sweatshops, a federation of 175 chapters on U.S. campuses.

The protest was called in light of recent findings that PWC had violated the rights of, and allowed Nike to illegally fire, workers at their Korean owned Kukdong International factory in Mexico.

MIT professor Dara O'Rourke found three fundamental flaws in PWC's monitoring techniques.

PWC routinely fails to protect the confidentiality of the workers it interviews. Workers are therefore unwilling to voice complaints. PWC does not ask workers about whether they are free to organize independent unions "'the internationally recognized right of freedom of association. PWC does not ask workers whether they are paid a living wage'" enough to cover their basic needs. These findings are supported by the findings of Nike-sponsored students who inspected PricewaterhouseCoopers monitors last spring.

Protesters called for colleges and universities that sell Nike products to end their support. "If [Nike] can't manage their contractors better than this, our universities shouldn't allow themselves to be associated with Nike," USAS spokesperson, Hannah Halbert, a Transylvania University senior, said.

USAS demands that university campus stores that use Nike products; especially those made at the Kukdong factory, to withdraw their support if Nike doesn't meet the following demands:

  • the reinstatement of fired workers
  • the recognition of the Kukdong Workers' Coalition as the legitimate representative of workers at the plant, and good faith bargaining with this union over wages and working conditions.
  • the dropping of all charges and punitive measures against any of the workers and their supporters who participated in the work stoppage or protest.

    Wednesday's protest was a follow-up to a USAS protest in October, also based on the findings of O'Rourke.

    "Pricewaterhouse and the other monitoring firms don't meet the standards to which universities hold faculty and students. It would be the height of hypocrisy to continue to retain them," Ben McKean, a USAS member at Harvard, said.

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