Not everyone agrees with SCALE

For the past week or so, a lot of students and professors have been up in arms over the issue of the school’s administration reportedly ignoring the SCALE student group. They’re the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation. While I don’t claim to know all the details, the essential issue is that they’re trying to stop USC from using sweatshops for the USC clothing that’s sold in the Bookstore. To do this, they’ve tried a number of protests. On April 10, they held a sit-in outside President Sample’s office in Bovard. I read that at one point, they entered the building and began interfering in order to get attention and try to open dialogue with the university. This has grown to be a big issue, even with a letter of complaint being published in today’s Daily Trojan and signed by a long list of professors. Well, I disagree.

To begin with, I somewhat don’t agree with SCALE. Again, I’m not an expert on the issue, so I can’t say I know all the facts. But I do not agree with their stance on trying to eliminate sweatshop labor by either not using it or forcing businessowners to treat their employees better. As a future businessowner myself, I can see how easily labor exploitation laws can be abused at the detriment of the economy. And as a student of Econ 203 (microeconomics) with Michael Sproul, I know that the free market needs to be allowed to take care of itself. Unemployment is essentially caused by minimum wage. Shortages and surpluses, both of which are bad for the economy, are often caused by bad legislation. There are instances where laws and price caps can improve things overall, and we discussed those in his class. I do not think this is one of those cases.

With all the hullabaloo and complaints I’d recently read in the DT and heard from my fellow Trojans, one would think that I, in disagreeing with SCALE, am part of a small minority. That’s why I was pleased to see the current results of the Daily Trojan’s poll, in which I voted that “Both parties are wrong”:


It’s true that most people think the students should not have been threatened out of the three options, but that’s clearly because of the way the options are split. If you add the red and orange sections– which shows the percentage of people who basically think that the students are wrong– you get a slight majority of 52%. While my perception that most people were on the side of SCALE was correct, I was glad to see that I, while in the minority, am not alone.

The administration certainly has a right to do what it sees fit, and I think it’s scary when we try to take away that power. USC is a private institution. It needs to maintain control over its campus, regardless of how that might make other people feel. You can’t please everyone. There will always be people who disagree. But the one thing we cannot do is claim that the administration doesn’t have the right to suspend its students. I firmly believe that it really does have this right, and that it should exercise it when it deems necessary. If it oversteps its boundaries and goes to far, we can try to get them to change when they exercise this authority. But we should not try to say that they simply don’t have this right. That’s scary.

While students’ politics should be separate from their academic status, this is not merely a case of “politics.” These are students who were actively making a scene, disrupting the peace, and utilizing unreasonable tactics to get their voices heard and push their political agenda. This is not something that should be permitted, and a student’s academic status has every reason to be in jeopardy in such a case.

You can also argue the option I chose, which is that both parties are wrong. I don’t know necessarily which group is wrong in this case because I wasn’t there and have no ties to either of them, but I do know that SCALE has no explicit right to cause disuptions. On the other hand, the university has every right to do with itself what it chooses. This is not a public school. If you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere.

Kind of like the sweatshops. The workers can go elsewhere– if there is an elsewhere. If there is no elsewhere, we should find out why. Is there freedom for new businesses to start? What’s holding them back? Not using sweatshops means putting these people out of work! Forcing businessowners to improve conditions means increasing their costs and possibly putting them out of business! Neither is an acceptable solution. Let the people work. If they are being exploited, USC is not the place to change it. The job opportunities and freedom for entrepreneurs in the areas of the sweatshops is what needs to be examined.

So what do you think? Do you think SCALE is wrong, as I do?

3 Responses to “Not everyone agrees with SCALE”

  1. Tom says:

    I tend to agree with most of what you said.

    Disrupting people’s daily activities is more likely going to piss them off than convince them to agree with you.

    Of course, SCALE is getting exactly what they want out of this whole thing, publicity. More publicity == more people knowing that USC supports sweatshop labor (for better or worse) == more ignorant people supporting SCALE.

  2. Michael says:

    You have a well thought out case. Too often, addressing the surface issue is simplistic and causes more harm than good. The livelihood of those working in the sweatshops are at risk. How are the workers to feed themselves if we take away the market for their products? Providing a vibrant free market environment would allow more opportunities for the people to flourish.

    I agree USC is not the place for this. When they disrupt the campus and the education of the students, the University should be able to use their resources to stop them and ensure peaceful operation of their mission. This is their proper role.

  3. Charlie Carnow says:

    Elliot, I think you’re reading how anti-sweatshop policies like the DSP Work wrong. By adopting a antisweatshop policy, USC is using its power as a consumer to make a choice on what clothing factories to source from based on living conditions. When you buy a shirt, you aren’t really buying a shirt, your buying a particular brand. I buy USC apparel, because I want to show school spirit. The actual cost of $15 shirt is 3 or $4. Of that, given that each worker produces multiple shirts per hour, is according to a columbia study which you can find here (labor costs sweatshops doubling wages), 1-3% of the cost of a shirt sewn here, and as little as 0.5% of the cost of a shirt sewn abroad. With a $15 dollar shirt (most of which are sewn abroad) even if use the 3% number, to double wages, would require either a 45 cent cut in the amount of profit per shirt, or the increase of a price of a shirt by 45 cents. Essentially what anti-sweatshop policies do is tell factories that in order to get orders they will have to increase wages and we are going to put in monitors to ensure your factory is giving people an opportunity. The organization then works with the factory (doesn’t pull out orders that’s wrong) to correct abuses. Other wise what happens is that companies like Nike have an incentive to slowly pull out orders from ‘good’ factories until they clothes leading to poorer labor conditions in the garment industry as a whole. An anti-sweatshop policy doesn’t cause unemployment because either the licensee eats part of the profit, or some cost is passed on to the consumer. If we compare the cost of our clothes to those at inferior schools like UC Berkeley, our clothes are actually slightly more expensive despite the fact they have a better anti-sweatshop policy. The impact of this, instead of the unemployment forcasted is better wages for the workers and a higher standard of living for USC connected workers which will allow these folks to improve their health, pay for education and make other investments that will better their economies and less degradation in the garment industry (as if USC asks to source from specific factories we know are good, and we are constantly expanding that list) as we know that the brands that make are clothes will not be able to pull orders from good factories. I’ll also show you some passages in scripture that have also undergirded my committment to social justice. I feel the goal of helping the poor is mandated by a lot of the texts we both respect.

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