Economic Justice 101

On June 10, 1999, Harvard Yard overflowed with more than 6,000 graduates, their families, and professors. Raucous chants and victory yells mingled with the speeches and solemn conferral of degrees; banners and balloons festooned the grandiose buildings. As the ceremony progressed, however, another type of banner appeared, trailing an airplane that circled above the yard: "Harvard Needs a Living Wage."

The Harvard Living Wage Campaign agitated through the year for a living wage for all university employees, particularly security guards. For many of the students participating, this was their first taste of "activism." While Harvard’s community service programs have long been a mainstay of campus life, attempts to change the campus’s economic conditions at a systemic level have been sparse.

But such efforts are now growing, and not just at Harvard. In March, Duke became the first university to require that all clothing bearing the university logo must be produced according to a "code of conduct." The code includes 10 resolutions vital to fair labor, including a living wage and benefits, reasonable hours and overtime compensation, safe working conditions, elimination of child or other forced labor, and protections of worker rights and dignity. The code is advocated by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a network of activists on dozens of campuses nationwide.

Unlike many off-campus campaigns, student movements tend to link the living wage and sweatshop issues. These campaigns recognize that opposing sweatshops means providing for reasonable wages, if apparel workers are to receive fair treatment and compensation for their work.

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