One year ago last November, hundreds of striking workers erupted into cheers. Having been on strike for four months in the little town of Derby, N.Y., good news from Georgetown University brought much encouragement. Georgetown had stepped up to cut its New Era cap licensing agreement in support of these workers and their fight against its sweatshop working conditions.

The 300 workers at the New Era cap factory had been on strike for over four months at the time, but the company was not responding. Added pressure from collegiate licensers was needed.

Georgetown, along with 108 other universities, is a member of the Workers Rights Consortium. The WRC independently monitors factories worldwide that manufacture collegiate apparel in order to report on violations with respect to universities’ codes of conduct. Georgetown was one of the first members of the WRC, pressured to become a member by Georgetown Solidarity Committee students in a campaign that eventually escalated to a several day sit-in at then-University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J.,’s office. The student, administrator and faculty-composed committee resulting from that campaign is the now titled Licensing Oversight Committee.

The LOC acted during Fall 2001 in response to disturbing WRC reports concerning the conditions at the Derby New Era factory, a producer of Georgetown caps. The committee attempted to communicate with the company about the numerous reports of extremely hazardous working conditions, impediment of the workers’ freedom of association and drastic pay-cuts of $5 an hour. New Era was non-responsive, however, and Georgetown took one of the first collegiate actions against the company by refusing to renew its licensing contract.

The pressure on New Era started to increase. Not only were universities dropping contracts in perfect domino formation, but its attempt to save face in the wake of deafening accusations of sweatshop conditions failed as its application to the Fair Labor Association’s monitoring program was denied. New Era headed the AFL-CIO boycott list, universities were demanding answers and the WRC, working with the workers’ union Communication Workers of America, demanded access to New Era’s Derby administrators in order to complete their investigation. New Era finally folded under the mounting pressure. The company resumed negotiations with CWA and agreed to rectify the conditions cited by the workers and made public by the WRC. Workers returned to their jobs with the confidence that the rights they had fought for were protected for the present, and knowing that, united with their union and supporters, they had fought and won a monumental victory against exploitation.

Georgetown’s decision to terminate the New Era contract until the workers’ needs were addressed made a profound statement of our Jesuit values and our continuing struggle to be a force of good in the chaotic, exploitive world beyond campus. Workers’ rights are essential in the fight for social justice, the fight that we as a Jesuit university claim to hold as fundamental in education. The unified action of collegiate licensers and workers proved to be too strong a force for New Era to ignore, but we have yet to celebrate or publicize this victory. The active interest of students on campus, in combination with that of faculty and administrators, has built an effective tool on this campus for social justice in the Licensing Oversight Committee. Three hundred workers in Derby are grateful for our activism on their behalf, but there are millions of workers in sweatshops across the earth in need of an interest like that shown here as well as a tool like the WRC. We have seen success in several factories thanks to the WRC and Georgetown’s influence; it is time to continue the fight and build and even greater body for social change.

Ginny Leavell is a sophomore in the College. She is the Georgetown Solidarity Committee spokesperson.

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