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SAS noble, but needs to grow up


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Lora J. Mackel

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 18, 2000
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Students Against Sweatshops is undeniably the most passionate and active group on campus. They work hard to ensure that the university and its ties to the corporate world are on the up and up. That is why it is so curious that this group would demand that President Peter Likins withdraw the university's membership in a monitoring organization like the Fair Labor Association. The reasoning behind the groups demand? They do not like the fact that the FLA has corporate members on its board. But how is SAS is suppose to bring about change in corporations, when they refuse to work with them?

To be fair to SAS's position, Peter Likins joined FLA on his own accord, in hopes that his involvement in this group would prove to the student activists his commitment to workers' rights. But SAS never liked the FLA. Last year, when it worked with the university to hammer out a compromise on the Nike affair, the SAS was not happy with the university's ties to this organization. Nevertheless, the student organization stomached the university's relationship until it could make some other arrangement.

Until recently, there really was no alternative organization to the FLA. But the national SAS group has created an independent monitoring group called the WRC. It , unlike the FLA, has no corporate representation in its membership. It was created because, in the minds of these student activists, corporations are always evil. This is because the SAS group is more comfortable with playing hero in a melodrama than sitting down and doing the hard work of compromising with the corporations.

SAS has noble intentions. It wants to be the savior of countless silent and underrepresented sweatshop workers in countries from Asia to South America. But like most groups with good intentions and unclear goals, unless it makes the necessary shift from uncompromising idealism to pragmatism, it will get nowhere near its objectives. While working with the WRC might make the SAS more comfortable, it is doubtful that it will be more productive than working with the FLA.

To change corporations and their policies, you must deal with the corporations themselves. The WRC alternative the SAS proposes takes that group out of contact with its rivals, and it is not a smart move.

None of the corporations that SAS opposes is under any legal obligation to work with these labor organizations. If businesses are to change, they must be persuaded to do so through dialogue with the groups that criticize them. Since SAS does not want anything to do with corporations, it is going to be really hard for them to change anything. Nike does not have to provide the locations of it plants to SAS members, but it does to avoid a public relations nightmare.

Instead of harnessing this power, SAS is ignoring the leverage it has with corporations. This is a shame because by manipulating the image of these corporations, and proposing labor solutions directly to them, SAS is missing out on a very real opportunity to help the people they champion.

SAS will argue that corporations can not be trusted to monitor their internal affairs. They will cite numerous companies who have worked on creating a fair labor policy, and then not followed through on the enforcement of them. They say that the worst labor rights violators already have anti-sweat policies that have done little or nothing to change the lives of the laborers they employ.

Instead of confronting these corporations directly in an organizational setting, the SAS is bowing out of the real fight so they can look the real hero. This is not helping their cause, not improving labor conditions and only creating more confusion about the SAS's real goals. The SAS is only proving that they cannot stand doing the hard part of bringing about change, sitting down at the table with your advisories and working out the real difficult issues.

When it is so obviously more interested in protest than solution, the SAS's real goals are being called into question. Activist groups do little else than bring matters of importance to the public fore. After that, groups either need to shift gears and learn the fine art of negotiating, or die off. If the SAS group cannot grow and change into an organization that is capable of doing more than protest, there is little hope for the issues it hopes to rectify.

Lora J. Mackel is a history junior. She can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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