Thursday, January 22, 2009

Above and Beyond By Knights Apparel or as I Like to Call it, Harvey

United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has been pressuring Old Main to endorse the Worker Rights Consortium's (WRC) Designated Supplier Program (DSP) through nonviolent protest for several years now. Old Main has resisted these calls to action, calling the DSP little more than the policy equivalent of an imaginary friend. And it has aggressively pushed back against (USAS) having had its members arrested on several occasions. Then last March, although they may not realized it, USAS had a game changer with a protest at a Board of Trustees meeting held in Washington, D.C. This made Graham look bad in front of a national audience. It was time for Old Main to take action.

Less than a week after the D.C. protest the Penn State Propaganda Portal announced a symposium titled "Corporate Social Responsibility in Collegiate Licensing."
"The complex issues surrounding the manufacture of collegiate wear continue to be carefully studied by institutions across the nation," said Dan Sieminski, associate vice president for finance and business at Penn State and moderator of the Wednesday evening event. "We felt it was important to bring this discussion to our campus and again keep Penn State at the forefront in the ongoing conversation about licensing, accountability, labor concerns, and other issues surrounding this topic."
So Old Main decided to talk the thing to death while trying to appear concerned. USAS kept on protesting and getting arrested.

Next, Old Main hired Damon Sims as vice-president for Student Affairs. Sims had been instrumental in getting Indiana University to endorse the DSP. Did this signal that Old Main was ready to take real action or were they prepared to cynically use Sims to buy more time? Sims certainly seemed like he wanted to resolved the problem. He met with the activists shortly after taking office and this past October,managed to get Graham to sit down with the USAS to discuss the situation. While nothing really came of the meeting, Graham wanted to be seen as a good guy.
"There may possibly be some approaches that are viable," Spanier said. "We found that we actually have more in common than we realized. We do agree on most of the fundamental principles."

While Spanier said the university might explore other ways to accommodate those principles, USAS members said after the meeting they would continue to support the DSP.
It would appear that he was still smarting from the damage done to his national reputation by the D.C. protest. Earlier in October, he penned a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national forum, which was critical of the current state of campus activism in general and dismissive of the sweatshop protesters in particular.
Students have occupied administration buildings at Penn State and elsewhere, willing to be arrested if their presidents didn't adopt the Designated Suppliers Program, an evolving concept developed by the Worker Rights Consortium. The students insist that the program is up and running, but in reality it does not yet exist. Didn't they check? Most students look at me blankly when I try to engage them in a discussion about antitrust concerns or other topics relevant to the compelling but complex juncture of manufacturing, international trade, unionization, and exploitation.
But lambasting the protesters one week and claiming agreement in principle with them the next week wouldn't be enough to undo the damage to Graham's reputation. Something more had to be done.

Graham had said at the October meeting that,"the university might explore other ways to accommodate those principles." Was he serious or was he looking for a way to appear to do something while doing nothing? It appears to be the latter.

Yesterday, the Penn State Propaganda Portal posted a statement from Graham about Penn State's participation in a new," program initiated by Knights Apparel and announced in concert with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)." The announcement was vague. There were no details on what the program, preliminarily labeled “Above & Beyond” by Knights Apparel, would entail. From what I could make out, the program involves Knights Apparel making sure that the workers in the factories which manufacture their products make a living wage, something they are already doing, and Penn State trying to get retailers to sale the stuff. Not much of a program. In fact, I'm not sure it's a new program at all. Neither the Knights Apparel Web site nor the WRC Web site as of this evening makes any mention of it. It appears to be the program equivalent of an imaginary friend.

However, its description sounds like a stop gap measure recommended by the WRC last January when it withdrew its Business Review request of DSP from the Department of Justice after it became apparent that the Bush DOJ wouldn't certify that DSP didn't violate any anti-trust- laws. Graham had cited anti-trust concerns as one reason for not endorsing the DSP. With a new administration-another game changer- in office, a favorable Business Review is much more likely and Graham's concerns about the anti-trust laws may soon be moot. This makes yesterday's statement by Graham look rather cynical. There may soon be widespread adoption and implementation of DSP and it looks as if Graham wanted to be seen in front of that parade, right along side the Blue Sapphire no doubt, least his national reputation be damaged even further.

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