Student group localizing fight against sweatshops

Nathan Winegar

Comfortable footwear would not have helped Nike Chief Executive Officer Phil Knight Wednesday as he got a beatdown in effigy from the forces of morality.

Medill freshman Danielle Zielinski, in the role of Knight, wielded a makeshift lightsaber Wednesday at The Rock in a losing effort against the representative of “morality,” Medill freshman Peter Micek.

Nike was not the only target of Northwestern Students Against Sweatshops, which staged several mock battles between corporate leaders and ethical values to draw attention to their protest, Micek said.

“The stuff our moms and dads buy and then send back to our little brothers and sisters to wear is produced under some pretty horrible conditions,” he said.

NSAS wants NU to join 46 other schools that have teamed with the Worker Rights Consortium, an international monitoring body that is emerging as an alternative to the Fair Labor Association. NU is one of 134 schools in the FLA, a sweatshop-monitoring organization that is scheduled to begin inspections this fall.

Vice President for Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine said NU was one of the first universities to join the FLA, but would consider aligning with the WRC once it becomes more organized.

“We’re not wed to an organization — we’re wed to an objective,” he said.

According to its brochure, NSAS prefers the WRC because the group will make surprise inspections rather than announced visits. The WRC also supports higher worker wages and does not have any corporate representatives on its board.

Several human rights organizations are dissatisfied with FLA’s philosophy of announced visits and the idea that corporations will reform themselves, Micek said.

Sam Brown, the executive director of the FLA, said the WRC has an unrealistic view of international relations, citing the group’s idea of surprise inspections as an example.

The FLA has no obligation to announce its factory visits, Brown said, adding that regulatory organizations do not carry the legal power to coerce their way onto factory floors.

“The idea that (any organization’s inspection is) going to be a surprise is preposterous, romantic and detached from the real world,” he said.

Also, corporations with a combined value of $25 billion will occupy only six seats on the FLA board, Brown said. By joining the group, these companies are assuming responsibility for what happens in their subcontractors’ factories.

Members of NSAS spent the entire day at The Rock, passing out literature and collecting signatures for a petition to the administration.

“We’re letting people know they have an opportunity to make a difference right here on campus that will affect the lives of thousands of workers,” Micek said.

To explain its affiliation with the FLA, the university has issued a statement online (

“Once the WRC has a chance to form itself, better define its goals and familiarize how it will accomplish its goals, NU will consider joining it as well,” the site reads.

Weinberg sophomore Patty Buckley said student response was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“To give people information is a powerful thing,” she said. “Just (so they) know the issue is out there.”