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Lincoln High School '98

Portland, Ore.

Penn set the tone for nationwide campus protests last February when an anti-sweatshop student group launched a nine-day sit-in in University President Judith Rodin's office to pressure her to change Penn's policies with apparel manufacturers.

On February 15, in response to students' demands, the University withdrew from the Fair Labor Association -- the organization that formerly monitored the production of Penn logo apparel.

Penn Students Against Sweatshops, which staged the sit-in at College Hall, asked the University to leave the FLA and join the Worker Rights Consortium, which they said was less influenced by corporate concerns.

Penn was the first school to withdraw from the FLA, but unlike about 45 other colleges and universities across the country, it has yet to join the WRC.

The nine-day protest started with just a handful of students, but gathered steam as the days passed. College Hall became decorated with colorful letters of support, and the group -- which eventually swelled to about three dozen students -- received national media coverage.

Similar protests have been held at other schools nationwide, including Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

PSAS wanted the University to join the fledgling WRC to monitor the manufacture of University clothing, claiming that the new organization's close ties with human rights groups render it more effective at ensuring an adequate working environment.

Rodin appointed a committee of students, administrators and faculty members to investigate the sweatshop issue and recommend what course of action the University should take.

In late February, the group released its initial recommendation to Rodin, saying that the University should abstain from joining the WRC or rejoining the FLA until both groups augmented the level of University representation on their government boards.

The committee included in its report a list of concerns it wanted both organizations to address before they would support joining either.

And on April 26, the group made its final recommendation to Rodin.

"While both groups have acknowledged our concerns, neither group has fully satisfied them, and we are not comfortable joining either organization at this time," Committee Chairman Howard Kunreuther wrote in the group's final statement.

Rodin accepted the group's recommendation.

"I regret that neither the FLA nor the WRC has fully satisfied the committee's concerns," she wrote after the committee released its recommendation.

A new committee has been established to continue to look into both monitoring organizations to determine which Penn should eventually join.

The committee also drafted a code of conduct to guide the University's dealings with clothing manufacturers.

Miriam Joffe-Block, who graduated this year and was a leader of PSAS, supports the University's decision to remain out of the FLA but remains firm in her organization's commitment to the WRC.

"The whole group is united in the position -- we still want to join the WRC," she said.

Although only a handful of schools had pledged to join the WRC -- which held its founding convention last April -- when PSAS began its February sit-in, more than 45 schools are now members of the young but growing organization.

The FLA is more established and backed by the White House, but human rights groups say it gives too much power to the corporations it is supposed to monitor.

The corporations, meanwhile, say that some of the WRC's goals are unrealistic and that they cannot do business under those terms. Nike in particular has expressed its dissatisfaction with the WRC, going so far as to cancel apparel contracts and donations to schools that have joined it.

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