Julia Wang, the campaign coordinator for the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, said the university’s decision to sign onto the WRC on March 27 is a large historical victory for SCALE as an organization.
“We have been asking the university to accept and really uphold our code of conduct for over a decade now,” Wang said. “In the last two years we have been sitting down with these administrators and talking with them to see how exactly USC can really work with the WRC and their code of conduct.”
The WRC is an independent monitoring organization that advocates for the rights of workers who make products that are sold in the United States. The consortium specifically focuses on workers who make clothes with college or university logos.
Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson said the university has high standards with the vendors it hires to produce USC apparel.
“USC has a long history of making dedicated efforts to help ensure that USC-branded merchandise is manufactured under safe and fair working conditions,” Jackson said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “The standards and requirements of USC-licensed vendors are among the most stringent in higher education. Joining the WRC serves as another tool to further enhance our social responsibility programming as we continue our commitment to the fair treatment of workers making USC-licensed products.”
Wang said that SCALE has been working on the campaign since 2000.
“One hundred and eighty universities have already signed on to the WRC,” Wang said. “This was really a move in the right direction I think.”
In the 1990s, findings showed that Nike and other large companies were using sweatshop labor to make university apparel. When SCALE was established in 1997, it began to question administrators about the conditions at factories that make USC apparel, Wang said.
“After a lot of student activism and a lot of pressure put on by the university, the brands finally disclosed where the factories were,” Wang said.
Wang said student activism led the WRC to further investigate the sweatshop conditions, which led to findings of the factories where university apparel was made.
“Then the WRC went into a lot of these factories and checked out the locations of where these clothes were made and they found out that they were sweatshops and workers are forced to work overtime without pay,” Wang said.
SCALE has campaigned in a variety of ways to bring attention to this issue among the student body.
“The most effective actions were the fashion show we had at the beginning of last semester and also the vigil because those are really visible, really attention-getting events,” said Francisco Rios Casas, co-coordinator for student-and-campus worker relations. “We were able to regionalize new people and have a lot of people be involved.”
Some SCALE members said that, in addition to raising awareness, they wanted to ensure that action was taken.
“We really just wanted to show USC that this is an issue that students cared about [and] that there was a large base of student support on campus,” said Sarah Newell, a SCALE campaign coordinator. “[We wanted to] let the administration know that this is something that the students are truly interested in. From there, the administration was great in working with us to really make this a reality.”
Though there were obstacles to reaching their final goal, SCALE members said they understood the university’s need to be thorough. Newell said that the university was outlining a way to monitor when factories made USC apparel, and needed to be convinced that WRC would be adequate and cost-effective.
“I think [the administration’s] concern was whether or not the WRC was the absolute best use of USC’s dollars,” Newell said.
Though SCALE has been working on improving workers’ rights, specifically in the factories that make university apparel, they have also focused on other human rights areas as well.
“We want to continue to empower workers and students together on this campus and internationally with all members of the Trojan family,” Newell said. “We are so excited to have achieved this historic victory and it’s been phenomenal, but I think we are also ready to see how we can help on this campus.”
Newell said during its 16 years of existence, SCALE has grown as a “voice of activism” on campus has expanded its goals.
The group’s growing success throughout the years has only encouraged them to continue setting new goals for themselves in promoting justice.
“We will always be committed to helping workers both on campus, abroad and also throughout L.A.,” Rios Casas said. “We have been in contact with several organizations. For example, there was a dispute over a factory near Downtown L.A. and a lot of students went down to support the workers there and speak with them.”
SCALE’s efforts toward human rights are not limited to the global community and the surrounding community. The organization also focuses on the workers at the university.
“We hope to have more events in the near future where we can connect USC students and the workers who clean our classrooms and serve our food in the dining halls through events like meet and greets or workers appreciation brunches,” Rios Casas said. “We are still going to continue to support workers as much as we can.”