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After Nation-wide Student Protests, Brown to be First to Stop Investments in Sweatshop Hotels over Allegations of Worker Violations
PROVIDENCE, RI – Brown University will be the first to end investments in a controversial hotel company. After years of nation-wide campaigns by students and hotel workers, Brown President Ruth Simmons has informed the Brown Student Labor Alliance, an affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), that Brown will stop investment in a hotel company at the center of a worker rights controversy. In her 11:23 PM e-mail to students on Friday, Simmons wrote that she will accept the recommendation of a university committee on investment ethics and end any future investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts.
The Student Labor Alliance’s efforts were anything but a run-of-the-mill protest campaign. Students marched into University Hall, armed with vacuums and mops to “clean up Brown’s investments”, and performed a mock wedding ceremony between Brown’s Investment Office and “HEI’s Corporate Greed”, in addition to more traditional tactics like collecting hundreds of petition signatures. Finally, on the eve of the Brown Corporation’s February 10 meeting, USAS activists from across the country overwhelmed Brown Chancellor Thomas Tisch with phone calls urging him to drop investment in HEI, and Brown students rallied outside the Corporation’s meeting.
Now attention turns to the other universities where students have been protesting investment in HEI — Notre Dame, Yale, Princeton, Harvard, U Penn, U Chicago and Vanderbilt — and student activists show no signs of slowing down. At Notre Dame, the campaign has escalated to a student hunger strike, and at Yale, a sit-in in the Investments Office.
HEI, a hotel company that depends on investments from Ivy League and other elite universities, has come under fire over allegations of worker rights’ violations. USAS members and other students around the U.S. are urging schools to stop investment in HEI and to support a campaign led by hotel workers and the UNITE HERE union. To resolve these issues, hotel workers called on HEI to adopt a fair process to decide whether to have a union free from intimidation, but thus far HEI has denied their requests.
During much of the student campaign, Brown administrators first told students they could neither confirm nor deny whether Brown invested in HEI, and later refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the company. On December 14, the Brown Student Labor Alliance succeeded in its efforts to urge Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policy (ACCRIP) to recommend that President Simmons end all future investment in HEI, as was covered broadly in New England press.