By Stacy A. Teicher, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
One, two, three, four. We don't want your dirty ... job?
Call it the business-suit version of student protest - a tactic that capitalizes on today's tight labor market to try to change corporate policy.
For an earnest band of students across the United States, staging sit-ins or withholding dollars during consumer boycotts are yesterday's news. They are opting, instead, to withhold themselves as potential employees from corporations whose practices they criticize.
A national jobs boycott is a novel approach at a time when student activism tends to revolve around local issues such as multiculturalism on campus or the cost of tuition. But this effort, which focuses on corporations' environmental records, holds the potential to spread outward from college campuses, much as the anti- apartheid movement did in the 1970s and '80s, observers say.
"A lot of students want to make socially responsible job choices, and they just don't totally know how to do that," says Antha Williams, a Boston organizer of the Dirty Jobs Boycott, which officially kicks off this weekend at ECOnference 2000, a national student environmental conference in Philadelphia.
The campaign intends to help environmentally conscious college graduates do just that. The boycott will target as many as 12 corporations, each in a different industry, and it will urge students to pledge not to interview for jobs at those firms until the offending practices are changed.
Coca-Cola Co., for instance, might be asked to use more recycled plastic for its containers. The demands will echo those of other national environmental groups, "so the student activism will be another level of pressure," says Ms. Williams.
Skeptics, however, say most students are not likely to put jobs on the line for an environmental cause. The boycott "may turn off some people from interviewing, but overall ... companies have so many options to find people," says Philip Gardner, director of research at the Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.
But he sees a possibility for isolated success. "Some major employers only go to a handful of campuses [for recruiting], and if the coalitions on those campuses are effective, they could hurt somebody."
Organizers hope they can mobilize enough people to change, inconvenience, or even embarrass their targets - and they believe the tight labor market is working in their favor. Moreover, the boycott is expected to target firms that rely heavily on campus recruiting.
Because many colleges have been slow to develop environmental programs, "it's really been incumbent upon students themselves to ... organize around environmental issues," says Daniel Faber, an environmental sociologist at Northeastern University in Boston.
Students are increasingly putting pressure directly on the private sector. …