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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

SCALE Meets With President Nikias About Workers' Rights

Miguel Arreola |
March 14, 2013 | 5:25 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Members of SCALE outside of Doheny. (SCALE Facebook page)
Members of SCALE outside of Doheny. (SCALE Facebook page)
Were you aware that clothes sold at the bookstore were made in sweatshops overseas?

Most of the student body and faculty weren't until the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) brought awareness to the issue thirteen years ago. The president of the university, President C.L. Max Nikias met with SCALE (almost a decade later) this week to discuss the exploitation of workers' rights.

SCALE began in 1995 with intensive graduate and then undergraduate student involvement in a contract fight for the dining and housing workers that lasted until 1999. They also focused on the unionization fight for the janitors from 1996-1997. SCALE finally turned its attention to sweatshops in 1999 after the dining and housing workers' contract fight was won.

“These students first sought to inform themselves of the issues important to the most vulnerable members of our Trojan family,” said Breanna Betts, a member of SCALE, via email. “But they eventually realized that as students at this University they had significant power to make change - especially in helping the people around the world who struggle over a fair, safe and just workplace.”

SCALE has worked on several projects throughout its existence, including the supporting of the United Farmworkers and safeguarding community interests in occasions of new land development, and for over the past thirteen years, the organization has tried fervently to have USC join the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent factory monitoring organization.

“WRC inspectors go into factories where USC-licensed apparel is made and write comprehensive and detailed reports on the conditions in these factories,” Betts continues.

Betts reports that the factory monitor is used by over 180 universities in the world, including 21 of the 24 top ranked univerisities in the United States.

SCALE has known about the making of Trojan apparel in sweatshops since 1998, and they first made it public in an article published by the Daily Trojan. In 2001, another article published by the Daily Trojan discussed SCALE's push for the administration to act, and through the administration's efforts, USC became part of Fair Labor Association (FLA). SCALE, however, continued pushing for USC to become part of the WRC.

The FLA continued to approve of factories where violations were overlooked, and USC's approved monitors also approved of factories that were the sites of several fires that killed hundreds of workers. In an email to Neon Tommy, SCALE stated that they “did not want to see that happen where USC gear is made.” USC is no longer affiliated with the FLA (read more about it here), but the current corporate monitors that the school relies on, including UL Responsible Sourcing, are not independent. These monitors are funded by the brands they are supposed to inspect. SCALE continues to push for USC to affiliate themselves with independent monitors.

“We started off by readdressing the issue to many of the administrators a few semesters ago,” stated Julia Mangione, a senior member of SCALE. “When they said they did not have a say in the matter, we told them to get us a meeting with the decision-maker.”

At SCALE’s vigil for workers lost in factory fires, President Nikias agreed to meet with representatives of SCALE. According to President Nikias, SCALE is the first student organization he has agreed to meet with upon their request.

Three SCALE members - Julia Wang, Sarah Newell and Mangione - were allowed to present their concerns to President Nikias at Doheny Auditorium on Wednesday. The representatives presented the issue and explained the practicality, frugality and humanity of supporting their cause and joining the WRC.

“It would only cost about fifty thousand dollars, which is less than one percent of what the bookstore makes yearly,” continued Mangione. "But we do not believe one can put a price on the life and rights of these workers."

During the meeting, several members of various student organizations stood outside of Doheny carrying signs and greeting students passing by.

“They would not let us stand inside the building,” stated Betts. “So we stood outside, held signs and cheered on the members in the meeting.”

Once the meeting concluded, the three representatives of SCALE appeared and addressed their fellow students about their progress.

“President Nikias was extremely respectful throughout the meeting,” stated Mangione. “He had been debriefed on the issue, asked very good questions and readily listened to our concerns.”

President Nikias concluded the meeting by informing the three representatives that he would “take the matter into consideration.” SCALE stated that they will wait fourteen days for a response.

“We have waited thirteen years for this,” concluded Mangione. “I think fourteen more days is enough.”

Reach Staff Reporter Miguel Arreola here.



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