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
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
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
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
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
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. …