By Nova Sienkiewicz
In 2003, students found a chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) at KU. This national organization is the largest group of undergraduate activists working to end sweatshop labor and promote workers’ rights by starting activism within their own schools.
The KU chapter, KUSAS, was founded by 2002 student organization Campus Greens. Although no longer active at the university, Campus Greens and KUSAS’ activism continue to cause ripples at KU today, over a decade later.
Advised by Dr. Kevin Mahoney, KU alumni Amy Robinson (now Amy Miller), Miranda Resnick, Nate Banditelli and Shannon McDonough pursued bringing the human rights campaign to campus.
After binders of research and a pitch to KU administration, the university became one of the 175 colleges and universities licensed with and supporting the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC).
The official KU logo became copyrighted property and can only be used by companies who meet WRC labor standards. WRC’s focus on colligate apparel seeks to eliminate the sale of products whose profit margins come from exploitation of their workers.
According to the WRC mission statement, the WRC lead investigations are meant to aid “workers at these factories in their efforts to end labor abuses and defend their workplace rights.”
The WRC’s working condition assessments span continents. For their affiliates, KU among them, they conduct research of countries in Asia, Latin America/Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Members of the WRC include familiar Pennsylvania based schools like Temple and Penn State, as well as several Ivy League names. However, KU is notably the only PA State System of Higher Education school to become affiliated with the organization.
According to the WRC code of conduct, “The Universities participating in the Worker Rights Consortium are each committed to conducting their business affairs in a socially responsible and ethical manner.”
Reflecting on her work with KUSAS in a published letter to Mahoney, Miller said, “We may never really fully understand the impact that our work had on someone’s life but we did it because we knew that it was the only way any of us would be proud to wear that KU hoodie.”
Miller says that their work wasn’t about changing the world, but about changing their part of the world.
To read Mahoney’s view of the activism performed by KUSAS visit ragingchickenpress.org and view his article “A Personal Message to PA State System University Students Graduating Today.”
For more information about USAS or the WRC and the universities associated with them visit usas.org and workersrights.org respectively.