1, 2, 3, 4: We don't want your global warming
College campuses are once again alive with the sounds of student
ASHLAND, ORE. — University sit-ins, college teach-ins, political art, guerrilla theater - it sounds like a flashback to student protests of the Vietnam War, or more recent-ly apartheid in South Africa.
Many students around the country, sometimes thought of these days as apolitical or interested only in snagging that high-paying job after graduation, are riled up once again.
They are pressuring their institutions to divest themselves of financial holdings in companies allegedly responsible for global warming. And they are pushing for improved wages and working conditions for the workers in Latin America and Asia where most of the sweatshirts, hats, and other sportswear bearing their school logos are produced.
In recent months, there have been demonstrations and sit-ins calling for an end to "sweatshop" conditions abroad at the University of Wisconsin, Boston University, the University of North Carolina, and Princeton University.
In March, activists occupied the office of University of Michigan president Lee Bollinger for 51 hours, one of several peaceful sit-ins that have occurred in recent months. A demonstration at the office of the president of the University of California at Berkeley is planned for Friday.
All this activism apparently is having an effect. Many colleges and universities around the country have pledged to investigate working conditions and wages in countries where the ubiquitous school sportswear is made.
STUDENT government bodies and investment advisory committees at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Washington recently passed resolutions calling for an end to university investments in companies that make up the industry-supported Global Climate Coalition. University regents and trustees soon will take up the issue.
The Global Climate Coalition (GCC) is a lobbying group of oil companies, automakers, chemical manufacturers, and others skeptical about climate change tied to the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
The GCC is opposed to the international treaty negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 calling for steep reductions in such gases by industrial nations. The coalition, which represents more than 200,000 businesses around the US, has been at the forefront of efforts to persuade lawmakers that the Kyoto treaty is a bad idea.
"It is unacceptable that the GCC has spent millions of dollars to misinform the public about global warming," says Phil Radford, campaign coordinator at the University of Washington, Seattle.
The industry coalition has not responded to the campaign focusing on its members, other than to direct university trustees and regents to GCC positions on the Kyoto agreement and to its work to promote voluntary reductions in carbon emissions.
"They're less than honest with what we're really all about," says Global Climate Coalition spokesman Frank Maisano, speaking of Ozone Action, the Washington-based environmental group that has helped organize the campus activity. "It's important for us to get our piece said about our positions."
It's also ironic, adds Mr. Maisano, that many of the large foundations that fund environmental groups active on climate-change issues themselves have large investments in oil companies and other businesses associated with global warming.
Harvard's advisory committee on "shareholder responsibility" in investing is scheduled to vote this week on whether or not to divest the university's stock in Texaco, Chevron, Mobil, and Exxon. The University of Washington's board of regents and Stanford's trustees soon will face similar measures.
"We want our university to take its money out of these corporations," says Ingrid Chapman, a student activist and environmental studies major at the University of Washington.
Most of the more visible protest has surrounded the "sweatshop" issue and college sportswear (a $2.5 billion-a-year business), and here too the student pressure is bringing results.
Nike Inc., the mammoth sports shoe and clothing company that has endured years of criticism for it labor practices in Asia, recently offered to reveal the locations of its overseas factories and allow independent monitors to inspect them. The Beaverton, Ore., company also reduced its use of hazardous chemicals.
Medea Benjamin, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based labor-rights group Global Exchange and a frequent Nike critic, called the company's recent actions "a very big deal, a big breakthrough."
Meanwhile, 17 universities recently joined the Fair Labor Association, a group founded by the apparel industry and human rights groups to curb worker abuses overseas. The Clinton administration supports the group, which established a code of conduct for apparel factories and a program to monitor violations.
"These schools are sending an important message - to their students, their licensees and to all consumers - that they will not tolerate university logo products that are manufactured under abusive conditions," said US Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.