STUDENTS AGAINST SWEATSHOPS UNIVERSITY OF IOWA
Students Against Sweatshops' Deadline for UI Ethical Purchasing Code Passes; SAS to Lose Sleep Over Human Rights by Opening an All-Night Vigil Tuesday Morning
March 21, 2005
Iowa City, IA-UI Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) has decided that if the University of Iowa won't listen to their pleas for an Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct, they will take their case to the people. Beginning Tuesday morning at 11am, SAS will launch an awareness-raising vigil on the UI Pentacrest in order to explain to the campus community why such a code is crucial to the UI's human rights responsibilities.
"The University of Michigan already has a comprehensive code of conduct for its vendors," said Alan Schultz, SAS member and graduate student. "Let's join Michigan in our collective responsibility as institutions of higher education and set a model for respecting human rights in our actions as well as our words."
To push for an Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct, SAS will hold a series of high-profile informational sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. SAS has called an emergency meeting tonight at 8.30pm in order to finalize the details of the action. Preliminarily, the student activists are scheduled at 11am to occupy part of the Pentacrest between Jessup Hall, where the UI's decision-makers reside, and Macbride Hall, just south of Jefferson Street. A weather shelter will be set up, accompanied by literature tables and political signs, and this vigil station will become the center of the University conscience for more than 24 hours. SAS members will be constantly present, handing out flyers and inviting students and other members of the campus community to converse about the campaign and to join SAS in the overnight vigil, dubbed "Losing Sleep Over Human Rights." At 7pm, SAS members and other activists will present a poetry slam and speak-out. On Wednesday, SAS will conduct teach- ins for various UI classes which have agreed to show up, as well as for interested members of the public. The intrepid anti-sweatshops activists, denied permission by the UI to camp out, will nonetheless spend Tuesday night at the vigil station, huddled in chairs and blankets but resolute about getting their message out.
Julia Slocum, a UI undergraduate and an SAS member, said, "We know the forecast calls for freezing temperatures and snow or rain overnight. But we are absolutely committed to the campaign for an Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct, and we want the campus community to witness and share in our determination."
The overnight vigil "Losing Sleep Over Human Rights" will be made somewhat more uncomfortable because of the UI Office of Student Life's strict rules for free speech events. Last week, SAS applied for a permit to camp out on the Pentacrest this Tuesday night, but permission was denied by Vice President Phillip Jones, despite similar authorization being granted to other student organizations. SAS has been allowed to use a small space on the Pentacrest overnight, provided they strictly adhere to a 26-point set of regulations. Camping gear, including sleeping bags and "other sleeping equipment," have been disallowed for an unspecified reason.
"As this is explicitly not a protest against the University, we are happy to conform to the UI regulations for the event, no matter how uncomfortable we might be tomorrow night," said Alexis Bushnell, UI undergraduate and SAS member. "Perhaps we don't understand why we weren't granted permission to camp out on the Pentacrest, especially in light of the fact that human rights-abusing corporations like Coca-Cola are granted five-year contract extensions. But that doesn't matter, since what is really important to us is communicating with the administration, and signaling our willingness to help them improve our University's human rights record. After all, we believe that SAS can be at its most effective when it joins with the administration to work together."
At the heart of the issue is the fact that the UI has no leverage to call to account any of its non-licensee corporate partners that abuse human rights. What SAS is asking for is a logical extension of the UI's existing Licensees' Code of Conduct to all of the University's purchasing relationships. This impressive code simply mandates that licensees adhere to basic human rights standards in order to maintain their contracts. The Code is available to the public on the University website at http://www.uiowa.edu/productlicenses/code.html. An Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct would likely regulate over $400 million of contracts per annum.
UI Students Against Sweatshops has been pushing for such a code since last summer, without much positive reaction from the University. In July 2004, the UI Presidential Committee on Human Rights concurred with SAS, and urged President David Skorton to form a task force to study a possible Ethical Purchasing Code. Following much delay, Skorton relented, and the Purchasing Advisory Committee was created early this year, not long after the SAS protest involving the ballooning of the Pentacrest in January. However, SAS was not invited to join the Committee, despite persistent requests to the UI administration to be included in such a process instead of seemingly always having to work from outside against the University. Over a month ago, SAS delivered Valentines to UI President David Skorton and to each member of the Purchasing Advisory Committee calling for an Ethical Purchasing Code by a March 21st deadline, but this action was met with deafening silence. Despite the multiple snubs, SAS is appreciative that the University will consult with them on some level, and therefore does plan to honor the invitation to present the case for a Code at the next meeting of the Purchasing Advisory Committee, to be held March 28. However, with no power to issue a binding recommendation to President Skorton, and charged only with meeting quarterly, SAS argues that the Committee, as it is currently structured, might be more an obstacle than an instrument of progress.
"What we want to do more than anything else is work with the administration to create an effective human rights policy which reflects the enlightened principles of this great University," said Emily Schrepf, UI graduate student and SAS member. "But when things move too slowly, we have to speak up. People's human rights are being violated in our name every day. We need the leverage an Ethical Purchasing Code provides, and we need it now."
Faced with similar recalcitrance in 2000, Students Against Sweatshops mobilized the campus community to convince the UI to enact the Licensees' Code of Conduct and to join a factory monitoring organization. However, these gains were not won until after SAS had lobbied committees for many months without success, and were forced to turn to a series of escalated actions ending with a weeklong occupation of Jessup Hall.
One major focus of the SAS campaign for an Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct is the UI's partnership with the Coca-Cola Company, a known human rights abuser. Echoing a growing nationwide chorus against Coke on college campuses, UI Students Against Sweatshops has pressed the administration to act for over two years. Other campuses across Iowa and the nation have also witnessed student revolts against exclusive contracts between Coca-Cola and their universities. Recently, Iowa State University dumped Coke to ink a contract with Pepsi-Cola. At Grinnell College, within two days of a campaign kick-off, one third of the student body had signed an official petition calling for a Coke boycott. Next to each product dispenser the College placed a sign which reads, "The Grinnell College student body has voted to boycott Coca-Cola products. This is a Coca-Cola product." The University of Northern Iowa, meanwhile, chose earlier to sign a contract with Pepsi over Coke. Six other coll eges, including Bard, Oberlin, and Carleton, have cancelled Coke contracts. Michigan, NYU, Montana, Macalester, UMass, and many other institutions are also under pressure to end their relationship with Coca-Cola.
SAS at the University of Iowa is not necessarily calling for booting Coke off campus, but rather having the UI insist that Coke not abuse human rights in order to achieve its profits. An Ethical Purchasing Code of Conduct would give the UI the leverage to make this possible.
"We receive hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from Coke so it can call itself the 'Official Soft Drink of the Iowa Hawkeyes,'" said SAS member and undergraduate student Christine Benavente. "Isn't it the least we can do to ensure that this partnership reflects the principles of our University?"
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