Upcoming FACES Events:
Mondays in October and November -- 7 p.m. Mabel Hastie Lounge, Ricker 16, UMF -- Farmington Area Citizens to End Sweatshops weekly meetings. FACES is focusing its energy on student and community anti-sweatshop education, fundraising, and mobilizing the UMF campus around fair labor issues.
Tuesday, October 17 -- 6 p.m. 65 State St., MSEA building, Augusta -- Maine Clean Clothes Alliance meeting. MECCA is an umbrella group of Maine organizations dedicated to eradicating sweatshops. Join us at the meeting to share your voice and learn more.
"A state institution, such as UMF -- and eventually the entire (UMaine) system -- signing onto a legally binding code of conduct that required contractors adhere to fair-labor standards, allow collective bargaining, disclose working conditions and factory locations, and allow independent monitoring, would set an example for the state," a student organizer,senior Erin Clark, told the rally.
"We're not asking people to boycott, but we want people to start questioning about where products are coming from and whether they were made using fair labor standards," Clark said. "We're trying to work from the inside," she said.
Since the fledgling student movement on campus was established last spring to protest unfair working conditions in sweatshops in the United States and around the world, the school has started to make some changes.
But, according to speaker Lee Sharkey, director of the UMF Women's Studies Department, it is not enough.
She said UMF President Theodora Kalikow has instructed the bookstore manager, athletic director, and director of student life to buy only from suppliers "who abide by the letter and the spirit of the anti-sweatshop campaign."
The campus group, FACES --Farmington Area Citizens to End Sweatshops -- has offered to supply disclosure forms and research corporations to make the administration's efforts easier and more effective, Sharkey told the rally.
"This is a start, but it's not enough. President Kalikow has declined to sign a code of conduct," she said, a commitment that would legally bind UMF and the companies who do business with the school.
"Without it, we have only their informal word that all is well in their factories," Sharkey said.
Without a binding agreement, "the clean-clothes policy UMF has initiated could be gone in a heartbeat when the president changes her mind or a new president recalculates the political situation," she said.
The UMF campaign has politicized students, junior Faith Sargent said. "It is one of the only progressive clubs on campus, and I am really interested in finding out what I can do about the sweatshop issue.
"It is so important to be an activist, and I believe you can change the world. Even doing little things can help."
The educational impact of the movement has sent students checking the labels of the products they are buying, several rally participants said.
"I always look to see where things are made now. But it's difficult, even if the label says it is USA-made, to know whether it was made in a sweatshop in this country," Sargent said.
UMF field-hockey Coach Beth Evans attended the rally with some of her team, and said several members did not know what a sweatshop was.
They wanted to know what it was all about, and started questioning the whole process," she said. "Maybe, we should start thinking where we purchase our team T-shirts and sweatshirts.
"We have made those decisions based on price, but maybe we can challenge the vendors to tell us where their clothes come from."
"Knowing my team, they would love to jump on board and be the first 'clean-clothes' athletic team at the school," Evans said.
State Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree, D-Knox County, another rally speaker, is among the legislative supporters of a state commission studying ethical purchasing and investment policies for the state.
It will draft legislation next year that could, for example, require contractors who supply goods to any state agency adhere to internationally approved fair labor standards.
FACES' Erin Clark is among the 16-member commission.
Pingree said she supports the "clean-clothes" campaign, and hopes young people see the connection between sweatshops and cheap labor with the devastating economic effect left behind by corporations moving their operations offshore.
When people talk about a good economy, they do not mean the living conditions of the average worker and his or her family, she said.
The average annual wage for a Maine job lost in recent years was $27,000, and it was replaced by a job that provides a $19,000 annual income, she said.
"As the joke goes, there are lots of jobs and I have three of them."