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Forum to address sweatshops

September 28, 2000

Students for Economic Justice, a campus fair labor organization, will host a public forum Monday night focusing on sweatshops in Nicaraguan factories contracted by Kohl’s Department Store and Target Corp.

The factories are currently under scrutiny by the National Labor Committee for firing workers who were attempting to organize unions.

Charles Kernigahn, who has fought sweatshops worldwide and is the NLC’s executive director, will speak at the forum. Joining him will be two former Nicaraguan employees who say they were fired from the factory for trying to unionize.

Adam Szlachetka, a political economy junior and member of the campus economic justice group, said the forum at MSU is just one of many that Kernigahn and the workers will make this year.

“This will be a good chance for people to hear first hand what the conditions are really like,” Szlachetka said. “Then they will be able to find out how they can make a difference.”

Anthropology sophomore and SEJ member Shaun Godwin said the forum and the fight against sweatshops is important for students.

“It will put a human face on this word ‘sweatshop’ that not many people really know about,” Godwin said. “MSU students will realize that there are kids our age who have to work in awful conditions every day.”

The university faced criticism earlier this year from the campus organization, formerly known as United Students Against Sweatshops, for its affiliation with the Fair Labor Association.

The SEJ doesn’t feel the association adequately addresses sweatshop labor. The association has been criticized for failing to disclose locations of sweatshops.

Earlier this year, students at college and university campuses across the country called for administrators to join the newly formed Worker Rights Consortium, which was founded by students and human-rights activists.

Several universities held well-publicized protests, including the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Both joined the consortium.

MSU President M. Peter McPherson has previously said he’d consider joining the consortium. He requested a university official be allowed to observe the organization’s first meeting in New York earlier this year, but the official was not allowed because MSU is not a member of the consortium.

MSU is still affiliated with the association; McPherson has criticized it for not keeping factory officials involved in labor-monitoring. The association consists of a board of university and factory officials.

“We are working vigorously with the FLA,” university spokesman Terry Denbow said. “Our views are being heard and there is definite progress with more on the horizon.”

Denbow said MSU is still open to discussions such as the one that will be held Monday.

“Discussion is important and that has been our position since the beginning,” he said.

For more information about the forum, contact the organization via e-mail at


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