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UC Berkeley Students Get Naked To Protest Sweatshop Labor Practices By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 03, 2006

Students Organizing for Justice in the Americas (SOJA) staged a rally on the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday clad in “Sweat-free UC” signs—and little else.  

On the brisk late-winter afternoon, roughly two dozen students stripped down to their skivvies—or poster board equivalents—to protest the sale of university-logo merchandise that they say is produced in sweatshops. 

Hordes of passers-by stopped to gawk at the chanting demonstrators, who donned signs like “You didn’t fix it, so we got naked,” and “Support the skinny Asian boys making your clothes.”  

Onlookers snapped photos with camera phones, grinned sheepishly and summoned their friends. 

“Dude, are you watching the naked people now?” one student said on his cell phone. 

The demonstration was part of a systemwide campaign to press the UC to ratify the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a policy that mandates the production of collegiate apparel in “sweat-free” factories. 

UC Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Davis and Riverside participated.  

Colleges nationwide also held protests urging their administrators to take up the Designated Suppliers Program. 

United Students Against Sweatshops, an international network of student labor activists, drafted the program, which emphasizes living wages and democratic employee representation. 

Duke University, Indiana University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University and the University of Maine-Farmington have already adopted the program. SOJA claims it has mounted pressure on UC officials for five months to follow suit.  

During the protest Wednesday, SOJA representative Lexa Grayner called out to the crowd: 

“You might think it’s a little extreme that we’re here naked,” she said, layers of saran wrap strategically shrouding her torso. “But the administration is ignoring us, they are not listening to our demands … and that’s the naked truth.” 

UC Berkeley representative Maria Rubinshteyn said that’s not the case.  

The Designated Suppliers Program is under consideration, but it requires further investigation, she said. 

“The university abhors sweatshops,” she said. “We don’t want to have any sweatshop producing UC Berkeley merchandise.” 

She added that the university is dedicated to “making positive changes, but it takes time.” 

UC Berkeley generates about $500,000 a year in royalties from the sale of logo merchandise. Whether the university would lose money if it adopted the Designated Suppliers Program is not an issue, Rubinshteyn said. 

In 2000, in response to student protests, the UC approved a systemwide anti-sweatshop policy requiring suppliers of school logo wares to adhere to a code of conduct. Later that year a report jointly funded by several major universities, including the UC, revealed that numerous collegiate apparel manufacturers were still operating under inhumane working conditions. 

The report prompted critics to question whether the UC could enforce the code, an issue that remains today. 

Rubinshteyn said the UC currently works with the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association to ensure compliance, but that it is an ongoing process. 

Some students aren’t satisfied. By not adopting the Designated Suppliers Program, Nina Rizzo, a senior at Berkeley, said, the university is shamed.  

“We’re supposed to be leaders in human rights,” she said. “We want to be proud of wearing a Berkeley sweatshirt.” 

Spectators at Wednesday’s rally generally agreed with the message. However, not everyone agreed the protest was effective. 

“The whole naked thing is bringing people out,” said Salil Chitnis, a junior at UC Berkeley. “But I don’t know if it’s just because they’re naked or because of the real reason for the protest.” 

Freshman Arielle Bosch said she thought the rally would have made a bigger splash if more people got naked. Nonetheless, she hopes it will force the UC to change its policy. 

As for her own policy, she said, “I’m definitely not going to buy anymore Cal stuff, but I will continue to wear what I own.” 

A UC committee to address university sweatshop issues is scheduled for March 10.