Macalester students oppose college’s affiliation with Fair Labor Association

Travis Reed

Bringing national activism to the local level, about 20 Macalester College students took over a top administrative office Monday for a sit-in to demand Macalester officials to withdraw from the Fair Labor Association, a controversial sweatshop-monitoring organization.
Armed with sleeping bags, pillows and unyielding resolve, students turned the building into the central location of Macalester’s anti-sweatshop activist movement Monday morning.
The students said they hope last month’s successful demonstrations at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan and other schools across the nation will translate into victory for them as well.
Last month, Macalester activists succeeded in urging the administration to join the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring group endorsed by human-rights organizations and labor unions. But the victory grew bitter for students when school officials refused to pull out of the FLA.
Now, Macalester stands as the only school in the country to possess membership in both organizations.
Macalester students say the school should withdraw FLA membership because the organization is counterproductive and depends too heavily upon corporation self-monitoring.
“Any profit-driven company looks for the least expensive path,” said Joseph Lawton, a spokesman for Macalester’s Student Labor Action Coalition. “If you ask them to monitor themselves, it’s not going to happen.”
Lawton criticized the FLA for its weak code of conduct, its lack of a provision for women’s rights and its policy that companies are not obligated to provide full disclosure of factory locations.
Macalester administrative officials were not available for comment but told protesters they would not contact police as long as the demonstration remained peaceful. But protesters say the officials refused to negotiate as long as the students occupied the building.
“If officials continue to refuse to hold negotiations, there may be an escalation of events, and the community will have to push behind the students,” said Angela Hasnedl, a University sweatshop activist who participated in the demonstration.
Lawton expects the prospective Macalester success to give University of Minnesota students leverage in their fight to resolve the sweatshop issue.
“When we succeed, it will give a lot of confidence to the U of M that (success) is possible,” he said.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.