From the SGA Candidates – Looking Beyond Colgate

Mike Schneider and Matt Muskin

The SGA Presidential elections have elicited a slew of ideas as to how to best improve life on Colgate’s campus. We believe that these ideas are important, but would also like to identify an additional area in which SGA can play a role effecting change outside of Colgate’s campus and within the global community.

Of course, this sounds a bit strange — what power does a student government have to affect dealings outside of a college campus? The answer is that SGA can and should act as a focal point to harness the power of students to make a difference.

This potential power has been made especially clear with the recent events involving Russell Athletic. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue, Russell has a history of engagement in a pattern of progressive hostility towards the rights of its workers. Back in mid-2007, Russell dismissed 150 workers due to their attempts to unionize. However, after an investigation by the Workers Right Consortium, a watchdog agency which represents over 185 universities, the company admitted it was at fault and reinstated the workers.

Recently, Russell’s actions have become more heinous. It has decided to entirely close the Honduras plant after further attempts at unionization have been made. This not only deprives over 1,800 workers of their livelihood, but it sends what the Workers’ Rights Consortium has called a “powerfully chilling” message to workers: that there is no point in attempting to exercise their rights under domestic or international law.

As a result of this decision, 18 universities, including Georgetown, Duke, Columbia, Harvard, Wisconsin, and even Cornell have ended their contracts with Russell. The question now is: how should Colgate respond?

The Colgate Bookstore has already performed the commendable action of cancelling orders with Russell Athletic pending the outcome of a Fair Labor Association investigation. However, we think that Colgate needs to go one step further and follow our 185 fellow institutions in joining the Workers’ Rights Consortium — and it is time for students to act to ensure that it does so.

We firmly urge the existing SGA to begin building momentum on this issue, and gather the support of students in order to let Colgate’s administration know that the student body supports the rights and well-being of those outside of our campus. We further pledge to continue this sort of work if elected. Student life issues such as meal plans and Cruiser schedules are important, and we plan to pursue those to their fullest extent and apply our considerable SGA experience to ensuring that we improve life on campus as much as possible. Yet, we also think it is important to emphasize the effect we can have on the outside world, be it in terms of some sort of social justice as in this situation, in terms of our environmental footprint, or simply in the way that we interact with the surrounding communities. We hope to be the leaders chosen to do so.