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Athletic Devils acquire a halo

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Time again for Hightower's "Wide, Wide, Wide, WILD World of Sports."

Today's feature: A devil gets a halo! It's the Blue Devils of Duke University I'm talking about, one of the most popular names in sports. Because of this popularity, the university sells some $20-million-a-year worth of products bearing the Blue Devil logo -- everything from basketball shirts to bumper stickers, jackets to gym bags.

But wait a minute, said some of the students at Duke. It's fine for the university to rake in big bucks selling these products, but what about the folks who make them? Well, said university officials, we contract with Nike, Russell Athletic wear and some of the other top names in sports garb to bring these products to our customers.

Fine, said the students, but where do the companies get their stuff made? We don't ask, replied the officials. So ask, said the students -- after all, Nike is a notorious exploiter of teen-age Asian girls, effectively holding them as indentured workers in sweatshops making Nike's high-priced goods.

The campus group, Students Against Sweatshops, kept pushing its demands, kept organizing and protesting until -- lo and behold -- the Blue Devils gave in ... and got their halo. The university's head of marketing now says, "we cannot tolerate having the sweat and tears of abused and exploited workers mixed with the fabric of the products which bear our trademarks."

Not only has Duke adopted a "no sweatshop" code-of-conduct for its suppliers, but much more significantly, it provides for a tough enforcement mechanism. To sell to Duke, Nike and the rest must now open their factories to Duke-financed, independent inspectors.

These students, with right on their side, turned this university around. They show how you can say no to sweatshops wherever you are.


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