Rhetorical Ingenuity in the New Global Realities: A Case of the Anti-Sweatshop Movement

Robin Patric Clair


The purpose of this project is to conceptualize, theorize and provide a representative anecdote of rhetorical ingenuity as it has surfaced in the contemporary history of the anti-sweatshop movement. Rhetorical ingenuity is a term derived from the work of Kenneth Burke (1969) based on the combination of imagination and inventiveness. The anti-sweatshop movement, part of the new global realities (Ingram, 2002), calls for more imaginative tactics and strategies. Special attention is paid to the proposition of and development of counter-organizations as forms of rhetorical ingenuity. Two parallel situations are compared where a traditional social movement tactic (i.e., the hunger strike) ushers in the example of rhetorical ingenuity through the development of new counter-organizations (i.e., the WRC and later the DSP), occurring in 2000 and the other in 2006. The purpose of rhetorical ingenuity to add to social moment theory is discussed in light of previous contributions. Finally, exploring the success of rhetorical ingenuity in social movements is considered for future research.

Rhetorical Ingenuity in the New Global Realities: A Case of the Anti-Sweatshop Movement

IN AN ERA OF UNPRECEDENTED GLOBALIZATION, the rhetorical methods of mobilization required to counter exploitation and to resist oppression demand new levels of ingenuity and tenacity (Bruner, 2002; Ingram, 2002).1 “Although global phenomena such as mass migration, the spread of disease, conquest, colonialism, and international trade are hardly new, the nature and shape of globalization has taken a new urgency since the 1980s,” and responses to it must keep pace (Ganesh, Zoller, & Cheney, 2005,  p.169-170; Ganesh, 2007). The urgency of which Ganesh et al. are speaking is evident in the tensions that are played out as people protest, sometimes violently, against corporate dominance, sweatshop labor, child labor, environmental exploitation, as well as cultural imperialism and political hegemony.

Mobilizing against the exploitive side of globalization has spawned numerous grassroots movements, the most famous of which may be the anti-sweatshop movement. Activist organizations that oppose sweatshops argue for better working conditions and higher pay as well as transparency of practices and accountability of management and owners. In the new global arrangement, thousands of small operations supply mega-corporations with parts or whole products, sometimes made under questionable conditions. Although advocates for reform are diligent, they face daunting circumstances; oftentimes, exposed sweatshops fold overnight only to reopen elsewhere under a new name. Corporations that buy goods from such factories claim that suppliers, who may be using sweatshop tactics, are not a part of the corporation, suggesting that the corporations are not accountable, thus, making social transformation difficult, at best. Countering this rhetoric requires both inventive and imaginative strategies.

The purpose of this project is to conceptualize, theorize and provide examples of rhetorical ingenuity as it has surfaced in the contemporary history of the anti-sweatshop movement. Special attention will be paid to the proposition of and development of counter-organizations as forms of rhetorical ingenuity. Two parallel situations will be compared where a traditional social movement tactic (i.e., the hunger strike) ushers in the example of rhetorical ingenuity (i.e., the counter-organization), one of which occurred in 2000 and the other in 2006.  The promise of rhetorical ingenuity to act as a viable strategy in social movements as a form of organizational rhetoric is discussed in the conclusion.

New Global Realities

Before exploring rhetorical ingenuity through the representative anecdote of the anti-sweatshop movement, it is important to define what is meant by the expression new global realities. One helpful typology is presented by Ingram (2002), who categorizes the problems of globalization into four main categories: “economic, environmental, socio-cultural, and political antagonisms” (p. 5). Ingram points out that it is difficult, at best, to suggest that these categories do not overlap and intertwine with one another. Nevertheless, his category scheme can be heuristic.

First, Ingram (2002) points out that with respect to “economic terms, globalization threatens the stability of national and local communities,” (p. 5) that rely on “special inducements,” especially in the way of tax exemptions. Corporate tax exemptions draw corporations to specific communities under the promise of creating more jobs for the local residents. However, the outcome rarely meets the expectations. Contemporary evidence of this practice and its devastating outcome came to light in 1998, following a special investigative report by Time magazine reporters which revealed that corporate inducements meant to create and save jobs within local communities never achieved such results. Instead, the practice of providing inducements merely created a system of “corporate welfare” (Special Report: Corporate Welfare, 1998). Ironically, the small community in Mississippi that initiated the inducement scheme was left in poverty as the company packed up and left years later when the inducements ran out (Special Report, 1998).

The practice of pitting communities against each other has now reached the global level with U.S. jobs moving off-shore at unprecedented rates. Off-shore, underdeveloped communities which may be geographically distant are tightly tied to industrialized nations’ economic markets, especially the U.S. market. Giddens (1999/2000; Castells, 2000) suggests that trillions of dollars exchange hands in the global market each day, increasing dependence of localized economies on large, volatile markets, thus creating an increased vulnerability for these small international communities.

Second, Ingram (2002) points out that in addition to economic issues, “environmental issues have become more complex in an increasingly globalized world” (p. 5). Like corporations that seek financial inducement to locate within certain communities, organizations today are seeking locations with low environmental standards. In addition to the point that Ingram makes, Gore’s (2006) award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth asserts the dangers of uncontrolled industrial pollution, mainly due to the increased manufacturing and societies’ gluttonous appetites for electricity, oil, and gas. Furthermore, manufacturing goods in countries with low environmental standards also means increased use of transportation fuels to move these commodities to markets around the world.

Third, socio-cultural concerns related to globalization reshape “nation-states, family structure, and gender roles” (Giddens, 1999/2000, p. 30). Lindsley’s (1999) study of the maquiladoras provides one of the best examples of this phenomenon. She studied U.S. American-owned factories in Mexico and found that the American organizational system eroded Mexican values of stability and trust. The hiring of a primarily female workforce from central Mexico left rural towns with fragmented families and  a gender imbalance. Hiring women instead of hiring men disrupted the gender roles within families. (There is of course a feminist side to this argument as well and will be discussed in the following paragraph.) With more men immigrating to the U.S. and more women moving to the maquiladoras the balance of community care was disrupted as well. In addition, the management style of Americans who continued to live in the U.S. just across the border from Mexico, driving back and forth from their families in the U.S. to their workplaces in Mexico, created an atmosphere of distrust between workers and managers. Workers felt the managers were not truly invested in their Mexican workforce.

Fourth and finally, Ingram (2002) suggests that antagonism between global and local identities may exacerbate isolation and frustration on the part of marginalized groups, but on the other hand, and as Marcuse (1999) points out, globalization may create empowerment. Ingram provides an example: “Global ties can provide valuable resources for challenging abuse, as the work of Amnesty International illustrates (Ingram, 2002, p. 7). Ingram also draws on Ehrenreich’s (2001) work to note that “Demonstrators in Italy were brutally beaten by Italian police trained by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department” (p. 28 as cited in Ingram, 2002). On the other hand, ripples of empowerment may also be seen as this story further unfolds. The trans-national press coverage of the beatings pressured the Italian Minister to resign, which “allowed for the articulation of resistance to police crackdowns” (Ingram, 2002, p. 7). The same complex coupling of oppression and resistance/empowerment could be noted of workers studied by Lindsley (1999). For example, exploited women workers experienced the ripple of empowerment as they engaged in factory work (Featherstone and United Students Against Sweatshops, 2002) which simultaneously exploited them through low wages while giving them freedom from patriarchal roles of femininity which offered no pay at all.

Thus, the political and cultural situations that arise out of globalization are more complex than meets the eye. In short, there are indeed new global realities which may lead to the possibility of, if not demand for, new forms of rhetorical strategies and tactics for social movements. Thus, the specific purpose of this project is to explore one contemporary, global social movement for evidence of emerging rhetorical ingenuity in light of the new global realities.

Rhetorical Ingenuity

Rhetorical ingenuity is tied to the concepts of invention and imagination. Beginning with invention, it can be noted that the definition has taken different forms over time. “The definition has changed and expanded from the Sophists to the Tagmemicists, from Aristotle to Burke” (Burke Lefevre, 1995, n.p ). Etymologically, the word ‘invention’ or ‘invent’ can be traced to the Latin terms inventio, venire, and vent, meaning come, find, or contrive. For Aristotle, rhetorical invention referred to the means by which arguments were developed and presented. Aristotle was especially attached to the invention of reason, but ethos and pathos played important parts as well. Cicero, having had the benefit of Plato’s Dialogues and Aristotle’s Rhetoric, was able to discuss invention at great length.  In Cicero’s work, De Oratore, invention parallels Aristotle’s in-depth discussion of artistic proofs that depended on logos, ethos and pathos. Whereas during the Enlightenment, scholars such as John Locke pushed forward the notion of a more scientifically oriented form of invention calling for less reliance on ethos and pathos as well as fewer arguments that could easily be dismissed as fallacies. This more scientific and rational model held sway for some time and went unchallenged until Francis Bacon begged for rhetoric to be grounded in reason that stirred the imagination (Bizzell & Herzberg, 2001).

Praising the work of Bacon, Kenneth Burke (1969) argued that the revitalization of the aesthetic side of invention, that is “the concern with ‘imagination’ as a suasive device does not reach full expression until the modern era” (p. 78). Attributing this rebirth of imagination to Bacon, Burke pointed out that Bacon believed that reasoned rhetoric should “fill the imagination.” Burke felt that too often imagination is relegated to the “lyric motive” rather than to the “dramatic motive” (p. 81). Burke provided an etymology of imagination, including a review of Longinus’s thoughts on the subject, and singled out the role of imagination in rhetoric as opposed to poetry:

After citing examples in poetry which “show a strongly mythic exaggeration, far beyond the limits of literal belief,” he [Longinus] says that the “best use of imagination” in rhetoric is to convince the audience of the “reality and truth” of the speaker’s assertions. He also cites passages from Demosthenes where, according to him, imagination persuades by going beyond mere argument. (“When combined with argument, it not only convinces the audience, it positively masters them.”). He ends by equating imagination with genius (megalophrosyne, high-mindedness) and with imitation. . . . . This is probably the highest tribute to “imagination” in all Greek and Roman literature (Burke, 1969, p. 79).

“Imagination,” Burke wrote, “does not require a presence of the thing imagined” (p.78).  This notion “opens another set of possibilities whereby imagination can be thought of as reordering the object of sense” ( p. 78-79).  In short, Burke calls for imagination to be given equal status with reasoned argument and represent and create possibilities.

Responding to this call, Ingram (2002) argues “imagination can open up different perspectives, which is important in a global scene” (p. 18). More recently, Symon (2008) suggests that scholars need to focus on rhetorical invention, especially in light of today’s era of globalization. Burke calls for both imagination and inventiveness and called for a term that addressed both simultaneously.

More specifically, Burke (1969) calls for the creation of a new term that blends and transcends the bifurcation imposed by earlier rhetorical theory, thus creating “a dualism whereby the same person can now subscribe to both poetic estheticism and scientific positivism” (p. 81). A term “whereupon it may also take unto itself the area of overlap between the two terms” (p. 81). Again, Burke calls for this term, but does not provide one. Such a term then should draw from both invention and imagination and express rhetoric that simultaneously exhibits inventiveness and imagination--rhetorical ingenuity is proposed here to meet that challenge.

Burke moved his discussion on the topic of this illusive term to the realm of idea and imagination, and argued “that there should be a term for ideas and images both” (p.86), a term that will bring the “body forth,” (p. 86). For Burke, this strategy that brings the body forth could be found in “identifications” (p. 86). Identification is one example of rhetorical ingenuity, but does not close the door on the possibility of other strategies fitting under this rubric. Indeed, any strategy that simultaneously draws from inventiveness and imagination to body forth what does not exist materially demonstrates rhetorical ingenuity.

Rhetorical ingenuity demonstrates the reasoned arguments advanced from invention as well as the aesthetic elements of imagination. Rhetorical ingenuity makes possible the intangible and attempts to give materiality to the nonobjective. Rhetoricians who conceive of skillful invention as reaching this simultaneous opposite fall short of promoting Burke’s ideas, as do those who linger in the forest of imagination alone;  those rhetorical projects that explore identification provide insight, but may be stopping short of discovering other forms of rhetorical ingenuity.

If we are to learn whether there are other forms of rhetorical ingenuity, beyond identification, then studies must explore instances that are both inventive and imaginative and that call for the materiality of the intangible. Althusser (1971) argued that the “subject . . . is the constitutive category of all ideology” as the “ideology has the function (which defines it) of ‘constituting’ individuals as subjects” (p. 171). McGee (1975) advances this notion from a rhetorical perspective, suggesting that “the people” are “conjured into objective reality, [and] remain so long as the rhetoric which defined them has force” (p. 242). Charland’s (1987) work, based on the rhetoric of interpellation (Althusser, 1971) and the political-mythical construction of the people (McGee, 1975), argued that the ‘people’ of a social movement are constituted in the rhetoric. They are not merely subjects that exist and identify with a discourse, but instead become embodied as a ‘people’ through and with rhetoric. This bodying forth of a ‘people’ is rhetorically ingenious; it systematically and rationally argues a ‘people,’ which did not previously exist, into existence. Strategies of inventiveness coupled with imagination—rhetorical ingenuity—may be able to body forth not only ‘people,’ but also ‘organizations.’

This study explores such strategies in a global social movement—the anti-sweatshop movement. More specifically this study explores the possibility that rhetorical ingenuity can body forth and materialize, not only a ‘people,’ but also ‘organizations.’ Just as Charland (1987) points out, “not all constitutive rhetorics succeed” (p. 141); likewise, not all attempts at organizational development will result in substantiated organizations. However, the success is not in question at this point; instead the possibility of rhetorical ingenuity that Kenneth Burke called for is in question—exploring if and how it exists in global social movements. With this purpose in mind, a history of the contemporary anti-sweatshop movement is provided, first to set the stage and second to provide details of specific strategies. The discussion will eventually compare two parallel moments in the movement that demonstrate the use of a traditional strategy (i.e., the hunger strike) to usher in a more rhetorically ingenious strategy (i.e., the bodying forth of a new organization). Comparing strategies in two different, but parallel, situations during the history of the contemporary anti-sweatshop movement may contribute to understanding the value and shortcomings of rhetorically ingenious strategies.

A Brief History of the Anti-Sweatshop Movement

In 1996, Kathie Lee Gifford, then co-host to Regis Philbin, faced criticism that her brand label clothing, which was being sold at Wal-Mart, had been stitched by the hands of exploited workers under sweatshop conditions (Galestock, 1999). Although the celebrity’s status brought the issue to public attention, Ebeneshade and Bonacich (1999) suggested that sweatshops had been in the country long ago and returned to the U.S. “in the late 1950s, when apparel firms began to run away from the New York area where unions were strong and could insist on decent labor standards” (p. 21). The authors suggest that as the clothing industry moved to the South and then into Mexico, companies found less stringent labor standards. As companies searched for cheaper labor sources, the apparel industry began to move offshore. Concomitantly, clothing imports from Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea increased, further elevating the demand for cheap labor markets. In addition, by the 1980s, the U.S. government encouraged company movement to the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico based on the belief that this would “not only help them to develop, but also to tie them to a capitalist development plan and to prevent revolutionary alternatives from emerging (as in Cuba, Nicaragua, and potentially El Salvador) . . . [such as] socialism” (p. 22). Such plans were supported with policies that took the form of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These policies increased the use of cheap labor, and eventually sweatshops existed not only in “Third World” countries, but made their way back to, if indeed they ever left, the United States. Activist Charles Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee exposed Gifford’s sweatshops after years of in-depth research that discovered sweatshops in New York City (Jones, n.d.). An apologetic Gifford teamed with Robert Reich, then Secretary of Labor who had already been campaigning for three years to end these abuses under the slogan of “No Sweat.” Between 1993 and 1996, the government “recovered $7.3 million in wages for more than 25,000 garment workers” (Archived news release, U.S. Department of Labor, 1996), and this was considered the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

In the summer of 1996, the AFL-CIO initiated its summer internship program for college students, providing first hand experience to students who wished to learn about the labor conditions of garment and needle-workers. In the fall of 1996, students and activists “gathered in Madison Wisconsin, for the Youth-in-Action Conference” (Featherstone, 2002, p. 107).

President Clinton responded to public outcry (made more visible due to Kathie Lee Gifford’s public persona) by creating the Apparel Industry Partnership (AIP) “to create workable, enforceable labor standards” (Galestock, 1999, p. 1). In April 1997, the AIP unveiled its Workplace Code of Contact, rules regarding “forced labor, child labor, abuse, harassment, health and safety, nondiscrimination, freedom of association and bargaining, wages and benefits, . . . [rules for] contractors, suppliers, and the companies themselves” ( p. 1-2). The AIP also called for “the formation of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to oversee the monitoring and evaluation of compliance with the code” (p. 2). The FLA was to be comprised of representatives of manufacturing, human rights and religious organizations, advocate groups, and universities. The establishment of the AIP led to the more refined FLA. These organizations were meant to address the outcry from concerned citizens.

Codes of conduct, written by the AIP, were disseminated to universities, even though many universities already had a code of conduct in place that were intended to regulate the apparel suppliers with respect to human rights. Universities have a particular stake in the apparel industry as they sell their logo items, not only in their own bookstores, but in a variety of other stores, raising money for scholarships and athletic programs. Financial stakes are intertwined with the educational and humanistic mission of universities. Many universities quickly signed the code of conduct agreement, but it failed to save them from reproach.

Critics, including Robert Reich, then Secretary of Labor, concluded that codes of conduct were not enough to keep owners from exploiting workers (Hunter-Gault’s, 1996). Jeff Balinger, Director of Press for Change, agreed with Reich and charged that the situation was more complicated than it appeared on the surface. He suggested that Western investors were not the problem. “Companies that open factories off-shore are, for the most part, paying fair wages; it’s the subcontractors who supply mainland operations, like Nike, that tend to be the problem,” Reich insisted. “For subcontractors,” he claimed, “a code is not enough.” “We want regular inspections by independent organizations that we can put some faith in, and not just a public relations façade” (Hunter-Gault, 1996).

The following year, in 1998, Duke students campaigned for their university to sign a code of conduct as an initial show of good faith. Duke University signed the code of conduct, and several other universities followed suit.  However, issues heated up in Washington D.C. and “several labor unions and religious groups resign[ed] from the FLA, objecting to the excessive influence of its corporate members” (Featherstone, 2002, p. 107). The FLA took the position that their organization could monitor subcontractors, while those who resigned and proposed to start their own monitoring organization (i.e., the Workers Rights Consortium—WRC) charged that industry could not possibly monitor itself any better than the fox could guard the proverbial chicken coup. After all, Nike was on the board of the FLA.

This conflict spawned one more organization, the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), which officially established itself in 1998. Nationwide student protests took place in 1999 at universities as well as at the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Washington. Small groups of USAS students, as well as garment workers around the world, held protests. In the spring of 2000, Purdue University students held their first hunger strike which lasted eleven days and resulted in the formation of the President’s Standing (Advisory) Committee on Marketing, Licensing, and Merchandising, to determine which organization (FLA or WRC) Purdue University should join. The WRC did not exist at this time as an officially documented organization. It existed only in the hearts and minds of the activists who argued on behalf of its right to exist. It was only a possibility voiced in the form of a rhetorical proposition as an alternative to the FLA. As such, it meets the criteria of rhetorical ingenuity—a combination of invention and imagination.

Eventually, the WRC, as a collective of university faculty and staff, union members, students, workers, and NGO members, moved from possibility to actuality and was able to take on the task of monitoring factories overseas. Thus, the WRC is an example of rhetorical ingenuity—it is rhetoric that existed as argument grounded in invention and imagination and culminated in the formation of an organization that brought material changes into existence. Achieving this end was not easy and required serious attention to social movement strategies in the new global era. For example, the membership base was drawn from both other-directed (e.g., students) and self-directed (e.g., workers) (Stewart, 1999), as well as other-directed and self-directed (e.g., union leaders) individuals who crossed national boundaries. Tactics drew from both the more pathos and traditional methods (e.g., hunger strikes), to the more ingenious methods (e.g., creating a counter-organization with a strategic plan) with some success. However, use of these same strategies will meet a very different end when applied six years into the movement. Thus, it is important to take a closer, longer, and more careful look at the anti-sweatshop movement as it unfolds.

Rhetorical Ingenuity in the Anti-Sweatshop Movement: A Case Study

In order to explore rhetorical ingenuity in the case of the anti-sweatshop movement without becoming so encumbered as to lose sight of the focus, I bracketed the movement historically and locally. That is, although the movement has a history that could be traced back to the early labor movement and a geopolitical parameter that could stretch around the world, this project set time and place markers while engaging in participant observation, reflecting on field notes, collecting artifacts, and interviewing participants. The speeches were collected either via public documents that are available on the respective organization’s web sites (i.e., FLA and WRC) or through participant-observation and note taking at public meetings. The public documents used in this study are available at the respective organization’s websites (www.workerrights.org for the WRC and www.fairlabor.org for the FLA). Documents were collected for a seven-year period, from 2000 to 2007. The documents were printed, organized by date of release, and collected into folders. Over 200 documents were collected and read. Of those, 65 documents from January 17, 2006 to December 12, 2006 deal with the topic of the Designated Supplier Program (DSP) and the counter project, the Soccer Project. They were selected for more intensive review because the DSP matches the WRC with respect to rhetorical ingenuity. These documents vary in length from short announcements to 25 page proposals. Although I only attended one public meeting at the national level, I attended nearly thirty local university meetings. The local university meetings are not open to the public; I attended as a Member of the President’s Standing Committee at Purdue University.

I also had access to the public activities of the student activists, as well as some of the behind the scenes activities (e.g., I housed three activists at my home—one worker from the Dominican Republic who had lost her job after rallying for a union and two national members of United Students Against Sweatshops—USAS). I also engaged in discussions with student members of Purdue Organization for Labor Equality—POLE (previously known as PSAS—Purdue Students Against Sweatshops). Using data from the university where I am employed was both opportune and crucially relevant, as certain students at Purdue University have been actively involved in the contemporary anti-sweatshop movement since its inception. Furthermore, the Purdue University students were the first group of anti-sweatshop students to stage a protest that included a hunger strike, and they did so more than once. Moreover, these students were actively engaged in efforts to get the university to join the WRC in 2000 and later the DSP in 2006.

The Anti-Sweatshop Movement: A Representative Anecdote

The Purdue University student hunger strike of 2000 was held in order to persuade the university president to agree to more than signing the code of conduct. It was intended to shake up the previous committee, advance a new committee to advise the president (e.g., the students demanded that female professors be included as members of the committee based on the argument that the issue largely affected women workers), and urge the new committee to recommend endorsing membership in the WRC, which was itself still in its imaginative stage. In addition, the student activists hoped to increase awareness of the issue. While some members of PSAS held the hunger strike, others went to classrooms and gave informative talks to students (one such student activist came to my classroom and gave a presentation on the topic).

The Purdue University student activists’ disagreements with the FLA hinged on two practices: lack of transparency and self-monitoring. Transparency referred to the FLA practice of allowing organizations to keep the names of the factories which supplied leading organizations with apparel from public view and from withholding information, such as salary figures or hours worked. Self-monitoring referred to the practice of organizations selecting and hiring their own private monitoring agency, which Applebaum and Bonacich (2000) explain as problematic because “The Department of Labor found that as many as two-thirds of self-monitored companies remained in violation of basic wage-and-hour laws” (p. B4). Based on this finding, concerned professors, students, and AFL-CIO leaders called for the formation of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).  Its founding conference, which moved it from a grassroots movement to a proposed nonprofit monitoring organization, was held April 7, 2000, in New York City. The WRC promoted the concept of raising global labor standards by calling for a living wage and promoting labor negotiations (Applebaum & Bonacich).  Universities were being asked to join the WRC rather than the FLA.

The cost to join either organization had been set at 1% of all revenues brought in by the logo apparel being sold for the university, an amount not to exceed $10,000.00 annually (e.g., Florida State University, “receives approximately $1.7 million in profits annually from university-licensed apparel,” [Fontaine, 2004, p. 1]). By April of 2000, five influential universities had left the FLA and joined the WRC. Only two universities (Brown University and University of Iowa) had joined both the FLA and the WRC, doubling their annual dues. This was not a practical choice for many universities due to the costs that would be incurred. The tension between members of the FLA and the initiators of the WRC increased. The matter appeared simple--The WRC needed members; the FLA feared losing members. Money was crucial for monitoring to take place, and the universities were providing that money through membership.

Bama Athreya (2000), committed human rights advocate and labor sympathizer, argued on behalf of the FLA, invoking ethos as the rhetorical appeal. Athreya’s arguments suggested that the FLA should not be “jettisoned”, as it has a working program that has made many advances, has the support of the government, and has a well-rounded board, including trade union representatives. As suggested, the arguments were grounded in ethos—character and credibility. In addition, Athreya argued against the WRC by pointing out that the WRC is a “fledgling organization” with no plan in place, a point made several times over. This ethos-based argument, intended to de-legitimate the WRC by calling it a fledgling organization, actually reinforced its status as an organization. That is, had the WRC been ignored, perhaps its legitimacy would have taken longer to develop. And had other language been used to describe it, such as a plan rather than an organization, a different image may have been created of the WRC.

Applebaum and Bonocich are members of the advisory council of the WRC; Athryea is Director of Asian programs at the International Labor Rights Fund, which is a Member of the FLA. Thus, in addition to ideological differences, organizational survival lay in the balance for the spokespersons on each side who were making public arguments in the form of scholarly work or as newspaper articles (Applebaum & Bonocich, 2000; Arthryea, 2000). The rhetorical strategy by which the FLA meant to discredit the WRC, ironically, lent credibility to the WRC as an organization. Even though the FLA had been established by the government and held institutional legitimacy, it reacted as if it had been seriously threatened.

Concurrent to the FLA-WRC debates, at Purdue University, President Beering ended the Hunger Strike of 2000 by promising a new committee comprised of two students (one from USAS and one Purdue’s student council), two faculty members, two administrators, and one Chancellor as director of the committee--President’s Standing Committee on Marketing, Licensing, and Merchandising. The president agreed to include one woman from a list generated by the students. Once the committee was formed, the president charged the members with advising him as to whether to join the FLA or the WRC. The committee spent months researching the situation and concluded that the university should join both the FLA and the WRC on the grounds that the WRC, working through NGOs, promised superiority in uncovering human rights abuses in sweatshops, while the FLA, working through government liaisons, promised superiority in the ability to enforce the code of conduct. The advice was sent to the president (One dissenting vote was noted, and a minority report was also provided that argued that the university should join only the FLA).  Purdue’s president promised the students, who in the meantime had changed their group name to POLE (Purdue Organization for Labor Equality), and the members of the advisory committee that he would engage in “dialogue” with both the FLA and WRC before making his final decision. In the end, the president decided to take the advice of the committee--Purdue joined both the FLA and the WRC, making it the third university to join both the FLA and the WRC.

The Hunger Strike of 2000 was quite successful. Students of the hunger strike had set up tents in the quad (the open space between buildings at the center of campus). Thus, they had been highly visible. They consumed nothing but water. They were antagonized by another group of students who didn’t seem to have any agenda or platform except to ridicule the hunger strikers. These antagonists set up grills and began cooking hot dogs and brats in front of the hunger strikers. Indeed, they even ordered pizza and had it delivered to the hunger strikers.

The traditional tactic of a hunger strike was invoked early in the movement, just a year after the first nationwide student protests, and launched the beginning of a long campaign. However, the students had no idea how long the campaign would last. At that time, 2000, the students’ demands were marginally met--the committee was reformulated, one woman was added, and the committee recommended the university join both the FLA and the WRC. The president did just that; although the student activists would have preferred more women on the committee and that the university join only the WRC.

As time passed, it became apparent that the fledgling WRC did indeed have a well-thought out plan and was quite capable of monitoring factories. As more members joined, the WRC obtained enough funds to put a legitimate monitoring practice into effect. Over time, the FLA relaxed its opposition to transparency, making public the names of suppliers and wages paid. Within a few years, the two organizations watched factories in a variety of countries (e.g., Mexico, Philippines, Indonesia,), which were in some cases owned by companies from other countries (e.g., a Korean man owned a factory in Mexico), and reported on abuses to the universities. An uneasy truce prevailed between the FLA and the WRC. However, both organizations discovered that gaining compliance from suppliers was not always easy. Some efforts resulted in fair treatment for workers, while others resulted in the midnight shut down and disappearance of offending sweatshops that would simply move to new locations, reopen and resume sweatshop practices. Nevertheless, the FLA and the WRC worked to keep the apparel industry as free of sweatshops as possible and seemed to be more compliant with each other’s ideological differences, until the WRC announced, in 2005, that monitoring efforts were not working well enough and proposed a new plan of attack—the Designated Supplier Program (DSP).

Rhetorical Ingenuity and the Genesis of the Designated Supplier Program

Simply put, the Designated Supplier Program (DSP) would designate which factories were meeting code. Factories would apply to the DSP by offering documentation of their high quality work standards. Instead of the WRC or the FLA having to chase down and ferret out the abusive factory owners, the factory owners had to apply for membership in the DSP.  This rhetorical strategy to end sweatshop abuse may evidence the highest degree of rhetorical ingenuity to date in the movement. It not only attempted to achieve its goal of ending sweatshop abuse, but it also attempted to usurp authority from the FLA. The strategy, both inventive and imaginative, supplied a well-reasoned argument in the form of a possibility—the DSP.

Instituting the DSP would end the need for monitoring organizations; this threatened the FLA. Of course the members of the WRC were not threatened, as their membership would administer the newly developed DSP. In addition, within a year of their efforts to get the university to sign onto the DSP, another hunger strike would be initiated and both rhetorical strategies would meet a very different end from what happened in 2000.

Details of the Designated Supplier Program

Members of the WRC posited that monitoring had been ineffective. They explained  that thousands of suppliers exist in the form of small factories and garment houses, some of which are more clearly organized than others. Some small operations exist in the shadows, making it difficult to monitor them. In order to truly oversee logo apparel production, the WRC asserted that those shops which were willing to follow the codes of conduct; be monitored; supply a living wage to the workers (living wage was calculated according to the wage necessary in the worker’s home country, and it included provisions for food allotment to feed one woman and two children, pay for basic health needs, rent, education, and bus fare to visit family once a year (“ WRC Sample Living Wage Estimates: Indonesia and El Salvador,” 11 pages at WRC website); allow the workers the right to form unions or other representative employee bodies without resistance from management during their organizing period; and allow workers the right to negotiate for better work conditions, be given a designated label. The DSP would oversee such a project. Universities that would join the DSP would agree to pay slightly higher prices for their merchandise (a proposed approximate increase of five cents per T-shirt/sweatshirt) because these suppliers would not be able to cut wages as had been a past practice. The licensee, therefore, had to commit to purchasing from the designated supplier.  Furthermore, the suppliers needed to make approximately two thirds of their production university logo apparel (a process which would be phased into practice), and  when possible, university orders would be regulated (e.g., a place in the playoffs can produce increased orders for the winning team’s logo apparel, causing management to demand unreasonable overtime from workers, often without overtime pay) (“WRC, The Designated Suppliers Program: An Outline of Operational Structure and the Implementation Process,” 13 page document at WRC website).

Rhetorical Turbulence as a Response to Rhetorical Ingenuity

The development of this program (DSP) as an organization of suppliers who meet certain standards and buyers who promote certain labor conditions and promise to adhere to certain buying practices (e. g, paying more for sweat-free products) is the most novel rhetorical strategy of the campaign to date. It attempts to body forth an organization and this attempt at rhetorical genesis does not go unnoticed. Earlier, the members of each group had hoped for the demise of the other. The WRC had hoped that it would replace the FLA and the FLA did not want any universities to join the WRC. Ironically, the rhetorical strategy led to the development of two monitoring agencies working on the issue. And most notably it was even possible for three universities, including Purdue University, to join both organizations. To the contrary, the FLA recognized the power of the DSP strategy to end its existence entirely, if indeed the universities accepted the counter-organization as the better solution. As such, this rhetorical strategy created a sense of heightened vulnerability that resulted in a flood of rhetorical messages, which I describe as rhetorical turbulence. Rhetorical turbulence is a flurry of rhetoric (questions, concerns, counter-arguments, symbolic actions, etc.) that follows a threatening, symbolic act of rhetorical ingenuity that is attempting to depose or negate one side of the dialectic.

The proposal for this new organization (DSP) from Scott Nova, Director of the WRC, was met with criticism in the form attacks: (1) pointed questions from the director of the FLA and (2) less antagonistic questions from university members of the FLA, university members of the WRC, and corporate managers. By February 2006, the FLA sponsored a teleconference to facilitate a discussion between all interested parties. In short, the FLA planned a defensive attack.

The FLA argued that they had already put into effect a plan for “sustainable improvement,” as they agreed that monitoring alone would not achieve satisfactory workplace conditions. The FLA explained that they were implementing a program in their A and B factories (where general apparel is made, but not necessarily university logo apparel) and hoped to move this plan into their C factories (primarily where university logo apparel is made) in the future. They had not disclosed this plan to the universities until prompted by the announcement of the DSP proposal. Even then, the details of the sustainability plan were not given to universities until later. However, a document entitled “Special Projects” was copyrighted in 2005 (“FLA Special Project: Soccer Project,” two pages at the FLA website) and lays out a general plan for “sustainable compliance.” This plan was to be implemented in either Thailand or China, in the “soccer products sector,” and involved training trainers to teach suppliers how to meet codes of conduct, set a “scorecard” to assess their compliance, set up a website to post results of the pilot project, and organize an “international stakeholder forum in mid-2006 to present a progress report on the project.” The final report on the plan’s progress was indeed made available to the public in August 2006, under the title of “FLA Soccer Project,” (“FLA Soccer Project: Interim Report August 2006,” 25 pages at the FLA website) approximately six months after the DSP program plan had been unveiled.

Uncertainty existed as to whether the WRC knew of the FLA’s intention to “train trainers,” whether it launched the DSP prior to the FLA’s “Sustainability Program,” or whether the FLA launched its program first. To understand why the WRC and the DSP ratcheted up the argument between one another requires understanding the details of the DSP. This plan was launched in October of 2005 by USAS under the slogan of “Sweat-Free Campus Campaign by holding demonstrations at more than 40 universities and colleges” (FLA, October 17, 2005 letter to constituents, p. 1 at the FLA website). At that point, when the details of the proposal were not yet clear, the FLA took immediate steps by releasing a letter commending USAS for its passionate commitment to workers’ rights. The FLA summarized the new plan as having “three issues: the complex nature of association, the wages of garment workers, and the impact that sudden production shifts can have on the structure of garment production and employment” (p. 1). Then the FLA argued that they themselves had already been working on these three issues for several years, specifically citing their “training of labor inspectors,” which began in “the Central American region in 2003;” a forum they sponsored on the practicality of a living wage in October 2003; and a “resolution” adopted by the FLA due to the expiration of the Multi-fiber Arrangement (MFA), which predicted a mass shift of garment suppliers to China within the next few years, in 2004. The FLA letter assured its members that the FLA was dealing with the issues. In short, there was no need to join the DSP, according to the FLA. The letter was signed by “Auret van Heerdon, FLA President and CEO” and discussed at the teleconference.

This letter of assurance relied on a tactic of ethos that had served the FLA well in the past, or at least until the details of the DSP were released. Furthermore, it hinted at the idea that there were no antagonisms to deal with as the FLA has been looking into the three issues of concern. However, of the three issues mentioned (i.e., union organizing, fair pay, and reasonable work hours) the FLA saw the issue of association (i.e., union organizing) as “complex.” Framing a concept like union membership as “complex” is a tactic that arose again when the FLA discussed both child labor and the living wage as “complex issues.” The strategy behind it was three-fold:  it portrayed the WRC as too naïve to understand complex issues; it portrayed the FLA as wiser and more experienced; and it obfuscated clear concerns (e.g., union representation, child labor) into confounded complications. The WRC countered with concerns that the FLA was anti-union.

Van Heerdon’s title is also of interest as a tactical maneuver meant to strengthen the legitimacy and credibility of the FLA. This government association, the Fair Labor Association, suddenly had a Chief Executive Officer. This highlighted the business savvy of the director. Even with these tactics, the teleconference did not end the concerns of university members of the FLA or the WRC. Thus, the two directors, Nova (WRC) and van Heerdon (FLA) exchanged further public dialogue following the teleconference.

First, fearing that it was being portrayed as anti-union, the FLA responded with a statement in February 2006 that included the following: “In summary, good labor relations and the ability of workers to negotiate and determine their own needs are the foundations which underpin sustainable improvements in workplace conditions” and that the FLA abides by “freedom of association.” However, they argued against the living wage, claiming that it “irresponsibly endangers the economic viability of factories” and that “the convergence of market forces and worker empowerment” should guide wage determination (“FLA, February 2006,” Fair Labor Association’s Approach to Sustainable Improvement of Labor Conditions in Factories, 3 pages at FLA website). It released a second document on February 17, 2006, which suggested that “FLA constituents” were raising issues and asking questions. In short, university members wondered if the DSP really could work, which would be a frightening proposition for the FLA. The FLA responded quickly with a rhetorical document. They framed this document in a question and answer format; the questions speak for themselves: 1) Are there anti-trust concerns? (e.g., Why is there no business letter?); 2) If union representation is mandatory won’t this rule out countries like China?; 3) Will having “a single organization” [meaning the WRC / DSP] as arbiter cause problems across the wide variety of countries involved?; 4) “Is the proposed path to achieving a living wage the best?”; 5) Is the proposed supply-chain model economically viable?; 6) “Who is going to pay for the cost increase, and how large will it be?”. Their own answers followed which were aligned with the FLA’s ideological positions, suggesting the DSP would create a monopoly, endangering free market practices (This document is dated February 16, 2006, but Nova describes it in his next document as having been “circulated to universities” on the 17th.).

On March 4, 2006, Scott Nova, President of the WRC responded in turn by writing a letter directed not to constituents, but directly to “Dear Auret,” making the argument more personal and suggesting that the FLA’s previous document had been rife with “inaccuracies,” “misconceptions,” and “misinterpretations” (p. 1). The letter reframed the “questions,” called them six “assertions,” and addressed each in turn in an 11 page attachment (WRC website). Later in March, the FLA released another document entitled, “FLA March 2006, Points for Schools to Consider Regarding the FLA Program and the Designated Supplier Program Proposal.” This document, in essence, was a revised version of the six questions document sent out earlier, with only slight rewording (e.g., Does it [DSP] pass muster under anti-trust law?) (FLA website). It is interesting and important to note that the FLA does not make the same mistake as in the past of granting the DSP organizational status--that is, this document clearly calls the DSP a “proposal.”

Some of the critical questions posed by the FLA, such as “Who will pay for the proposed increase?” and “Are there anti-trust concerns, Why is there no business letter?” were taken to heart by the initiators of the DSP. These WRC members further refined their economic plan and sought a business letter. Ironically, the counter-rhetoric of the FLA inadvertently helped the DSP refine its formation and move it toward materialization as an organization. Indeed, the FLA complained that the business letter  obtained was insufficient and so, in the meantime, the WRC sought a second business review letter and released it.

The assessment of Baker & Miller, PLLC, concluded on March 1, 2006, that universities joining the DSP would be acting in good faith and “To summarize [a number of legal positions] as long as a Licensee simply complies with and implements Program-related requirements included in a license at the insistence of the UL [University Licensor] it faces no significant risk of being found to have violated the U.S. antitrust laws” (WRC website). On March 28, 2006, the FLA increased its attack providing more specifics as to how the “business review letter,” written by Baker, had “critical” errors (“FLA March 28, 2006,” University Antitrust Considerations for WRC Designated Supplier Program, 3 pages at FLA website). On the same day, the FLA issued a letter “to the leadership of USAS,” who had started an “FLA Watch site,” much to the dismay of the FLA. The FLA letter debated USAS’s portrayal of the FLA as the “fox guarding the hen-house” (p. 1) and USAS’s portrayal of the FLA as incompetent and guilty of using cover-ups in its monitoring (FLA website). The next day, March 29, 2006, the FLA issued another attack entitled, “Is it the FLA versus the WRC, or the FLA and the WRC?” The two page flyer claimed that the WRC’s DSP plan shifted from “challenging factories to vouching for them” and, in a turnabout, the FLA claimed that “The FLA, from its inception, took the position that there needs to be a pool of preferred suppliers from which smaller licensees could choose” (p. 1 FLA website). This flurry of rhetoric was often one-sided in the sense that the FLA did not wait for responses from the WRC, but posted continually on its website.

The rhetorical turbulence was so intense that the arguments provided by the FLA lost their coherence over time. For example, the FLA argued against the DSP but by the end of this flurry of rhetoric the FLA suggested that they were the first, from the time of their “inception,” who wanted to create a designated group of suppliers. It is possible that this lack of coherence may actually have been a rhetorical tactic, known as superlative rhetoric (e.g., the first, the most, the best), that relies on ethos by positioning the FLA as the first to think of this possibility. Nevertheless, they had argued against it in previous posts.

At this point, the FLA wrote another document that assessed the debate. This document reframed the history, arguing that the FLA was the only recourse in 2000, at which point they had tried to include labor, but labor had threatened to exit (this exit is presumably due to the inclusion of big business on the FLA board) and so they had to make compromises to their ideal plan. They asserted that detractors criticized them and the detractors eventually developed the WRC. This meta-rhetorical tactic, rhetoric that summarizes and assesses the situation and claims awareness of the whole social movement, purports an omniscient view and asserts superior knowledge of the history. It was meant to bring control back to the FLA. Furthermore, the FLA portrayed itself as the hero and as the victim. It did not end there. They contended that the two organizations, the FLA and the WRC, had been able to collaborate by taking different approaches and that they should return to that arrangement, and perhaps even work on a joint plan. The desperation seemed obvious in the deluge and type of arguments the FLA promoted during this turbulent rhetorical period. The FLA rhetoric was eventually interrupted by the advent of a new “business review letter,” from the WRC. Scott Nova of the WRC secured another legal opinion (12 pages in length) to address the “business review letter” concern posed earlier by the FLA (WRC website). Nova sent this letter to the FLA and posted it on the WRC website.

On March 30, 2006, Auret of the FLA replied in the form of a letter addressed “Dear Scott.” The more personal address was followed with an apology for not getting back to him sooner and a compliment that the DSP language had been adjusted. However, at this point the FLA raised new concerns: the improbability of achieving compliance in a global supply chain and the sustainability of the DSP program. In the letter, Auret van Heerdon used child labor as an example, suggesting that in some countries, child labor is a reality that must be dealt with from various vantages including “the family, the education system, local economic development and the employer” (p. 2), hinting that the DSP could not deal with these issues, but perhaps the FLA could. Van Heerdon ended on a somewhat condescending note that suggested that the DSP demonstrates naiveté and was only “repeating the past mistakes of the 1990s” (FLA website). At this point, the FLA still relied on ethos by questioning the credibility of the WRC and promoting their own knowledge and experience, just as they had when the WRC first challenged the FLA. They also used the tactic of complexity to frame child labor just as they had used it to discuss the right to association (i.e., union organizing) previously. The FLA argued that children’s labor is necessary for the survival of the family in poverty-stricken areas and unions are not feasible in some countries.

These FLA arguments failed to persuade some key constituents and on March 21, 2006, University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Larry Billups, Special Assistant to Chancellor John Wiley, announced that UW-Madison would join the DSP and said, “We’re the first university in the nation to even acknowledge the DSP” (Pelzek, 2006).  Eight other universities quickly followed UW-Madison’s lead and joined the DSP. However, many more universities were still undecided, which led to the announcement of public meetings to be held.

On March 30, 2006, a joint forum was held in Berkeley, California; on March 31, 2006, a joint forum was held in Chicago, which I attended as an official representative of the university. I took copious notes and reported back to the committee. Several POLE students attended. Both Nova and van Heerdon gave eloquent speeches. The audience included representatives from several universities, students groups, suppliers and businesses. The forum addressed the DSP, but the FLA took the opportunity to promote “the FLA program—FLA 3.0” (a.k.a. the Soccer Report mentioned earlier). At this forum, Auret van Heerdon explained the FLA’s program as grounded in “root causes” and “best practices” and argued that this approach could achieve “sustainability.” Nova countered and explained how these “best practices” were not necessarily what was best for the workers.2 Both the FLA and the WRC argued that monitoring was not working and that it required more than a monitoring organization to end abuses. The FLA argued that its own FLA 3.0 Soccer Project was more than a monitoring organization. They planned to teach owners of factories how to be better businesspeople and treat their workers fairly. Therefore, the FLA 3.0 matched the DSP in creating a new program, but not one that could be described as a new consortium or a new organization.

In the meantime, student activists continued their rhetorical engagement. A demonstration with about 70 students was held in March 2006 at Purdue University. The independent campus newspaper questioned whether the students knew what they were doing, as the university already belonged to the WRC, and did not necessarily need another monitoring agency. On April 5, 2006, The Hartford Courant reported that “UConn backs Worker Rights Plan,” joining “about a dozen other universities” who signed onto the DSP as a working group that would help to iron out wrinkles in the DSP and help move it along to end sweatshop labor (Merritt, 2006). Others added their names to the list, while more conservative universities remained tied to the FLA.

Purdue University student pressure to join the DSP increased and conservative members of the Merchandising, Licensing and Marketing Committee felt that signing onto a group working to improve the DSP was tantamount to supporting or joining the DSP, which they were not prepared to do. The idea that the DSP existed only in the hearts and minds of the activists was nearly completely forgotten. Yet, it worked to the disadvantage of the activists this time instead of to their advantage, as it had worked before. In other words, when the WRC was perceived as an organization, it lent it more legitimacy and moved its materialization along, but when the DSP proposal was perceived as an organization it instilled fear into the conservative members of the Purdue University President’s Merchandise, Licensing, and Marketing committee, who expressed concerns about antitrust law suits.

On April 13, 2006, Purdue students protested again in the Memorial Mall and marched into the president’s office to protest the fact that President Jischke had thus far refused to sign onto the DSP.  No response followed. Students complained about the lack of dialogue. Classes let out and the summer passed without incident. However, when classes began in the fall, Purdue University had not yet given the POLE members a definitive answer. Demonstrations were revitalized, but failed to push the issue to a vote in September or October. The advisory committee did not give President Jischke a recommendation until November 15, 2006, at which time the committee did not recommend joining the DSP working group. The vote was 4-2 against the DSP (Press release from Martin C. Jischke, 2006). A minority report was written and submitted. The president made no final determination.

Frustrated by the negative committee vote and the lag in time awaiting the president’s decision, on November 16, 2006, “eleven students chained themselves together [‘with bicycle locks around their necks’] in Purdue President Martin Jischke’s office (Thomas, 2006). Following this event, which ended with the students agreeing to leave, several Purdue University students initiated a hunger strike. This would be the second hunger strike held at Purdue University. They camped out in two university buildings (Hovde and Stewart Center Hall); made signs; gave interviews to the Indianapolis Star, WBAA, Jouranl & Courier, Purdue Exponent, WLFI 18, as well as the Ball State and Purdue-Calumet student campus newspapers (Purdue Hunger Strike Update, 2006); and managed to get their picture and an article in The Nation magazine (Rothberg, 2006). After a short time, they consolidated their strike into the open, high-visibility lobby area of one building, Stewart Center, but the university deemed them a fire hazard and had them moved to a different and low-visibility area of the building. The students drank water, juice and other liquids and took vitamins for sustenance. Nevertheless, as students began to show signs of lethargy, dehydration and weakness, concerned parents called the university and their advisor, Prof. Berenice Carroll, grew more alarmed and worried about their physical health. She contacted me and asked me to accompany her to see the local priest from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church who took up their cause, noting that the students were young, passionate, and dedicated, if somewhat naive. Shiela Klinker, a State Representative weighed in on the matter on behalf of the students. Letters were written to the local newspaper. Some described the students as having been persuaded by labor unions and argued that the students didn’t understand how sweatshops are good for the economy of under-industrialized nations. Although the students’ credibility was questioned, awareness was heightened. However, unlike the first hunger strike of 2000, which for the most part succeeded, the second hunger strike of 2006 failed to achieve the desired end.  Unlike the WRC, the DSP failed to materialize and instead continued to exist only in the hearts, minds, and rhetoric of its creators.

On December 12, 2006, Purdue University’s President Jischke officially announced that the university would not join the DSP. The following day, the students announced the end of the 27-day hunger strike and broke bread together, but refused to accept defeat, vowing that they would continue to fight in other ways on behalf of worker rights (Marburger, 2007; Hunger Strike Update, 2006). Purdue University remains a member of both the FLA and the WRC. However, the current president has disbanded the advisory committee and reasserted the university’s stand against the DSP.


Conceptualizing rhetorical ingenuity as simultaneously drawing from inventiveness and imagination to body forth what does not exist materially has been the heart of this article. Establishing rhetorical ingenuity as a third term, perhaps an umbrella term, leans heavily on the contributions of previous scholars, but most importantly on the insights of Kenneth Burke (1969), who provided ground-breaking insights into ideology and constructing, defining, and positioning the subject through rhetoric as well as how the subject legitimizes the ideological discourse. For Burke, a keen example of rhetorical ingenuity is found in the strategy of identification as it creates the subject according to discourse. This study has proposed the extension of Burke's insights by combining inventiveness and imagination into rhetorical ingenuity and applying it to the creative development of not only people but also organizations..

This project means only to be one small contribution to the body of knowledge concerning the rhetorical construction of the possible. It hopes to partner with scholars who focus on the construction of the subject by adding a place for organizations to be rhetorically materialized and to provide a term that seems conducive to discussing tactics and strategies, especially for social movements. This project has specifically looked at the rhetorical genesis of two organizations, the WRC and the DSP. As origins are indeterminate or at least ambiguous, I would like to point out that I could have focused on the rhetorical genesis of the FLA. I did not because I wanted to supply a representative anecdote that would offer both a fairly successful as well as relatively ineffective rhetorical genesis.

Clearly the relative success or failure of each deserves future attention. These organizations, the WRC and the DSP, existed as rhetoric and demonstrated inventiveness and imagination--rhetorical ingenuity. The WRC began as imaginative and inventive rhetoric that later materialized into an organization, meaning it had members, goals, duties, projects, active involvement with other organizations, and had an impact on people’s lives. The other, the DSP, failed to materialize in an active manner; it existed in oral and written rhetoric, but never materialized in the sense of carrying out its duties or impacting the lives of workers. Student activists still talk as if the DSP does indeed exist. Months after the President’s negative decision, I asked one student why he felt the university decided not to sign onto the DSP; his answer: “Yet.”

A thorough analysis of why the different tactics (e.g., the hunger strikes) and strategies (e.g., gaining control through the rhetorical genesis of organizations) met such very different ends is a matter for future scholars. I could offer conjecture at this point, but it would be incomplete without a full description of the micro and macro political situation which is so relevant to understanding the success and failure of social movements. Oftentimes, perhaps too often, the rhetorical choices are commended or blamed without taking into account the full rhetorical situation (Bitzer, 1968). For instance, in the case of Purdue University’s involvement with the anti-sweatshop movement, the outgoing president, President Beering, ended the first hunger strike by promising to restructure the advisory committee, including adding a woman, and assigning the members the task to make a decision as to whether to join the WRC or FLA. Outgoing presidents have more leeway with regard to decisions they make. The incoming president, President Jischke, was rescued by the committee’s recommendation to join both the FLA and the WRC. The third president during the period under review, President Córdova, faced a serious quandary.

President Córdova had agreed to and signed the letter of intent to support the DSP while she was at UC-Santa Barbara and before coming to Purdue University. Once she was faced with the same set of circumstances at a different university and completely different political environment, (she suggested that she had dealt with numerous unions in California, and that was the norm, but she found in Indiana, in general, unions are not supported and few exist on campus), she chose not to join the DSP. This example does not even begin to capture the national political picture between 2000 and 2006. Thus, it is important to note that tactics and strategies do not exist in a social movement vacuum. Indeed, like the new global reality, a complex set of circumstances surround the rhetorical enterprise. Thus, it would be premature to attempt to assign specific designation for the relative success or failure of the strategy in this specific case at this time.

The rhetorical genesis of organizations, specifically the WRC and the DSP, stands out as rhetorical ingenuity--both invention and imagination. The WRC and DSP challenged the FLA as well as the organizational structure of the new global corporations. But the DSP in and of itself, much like the WRC at its inception, does not exist in an active manner; it lives only in the imagination of the students, workers, and other activists. It is where imagination meets invention, where the lyric meets the dramatic; it is rhetorical ingenuity. These organizations either did or intended to address the complexities of the new global realties. How these actualized or imagined organizations move into the material realm deserves further investigation, especially if scholars are to assess what strategies and tactics will best alleviate worker exploitation in the global arena.


1. A portion of this article appeared in a related paper that received the Top Paper Award from the rhetoric division of CSSA in 2006. The author would like to thank Charles J. Stewart, Professor Emeritus at Purdue University for comments on an earlier draft. The author would also like to thank Dennis Yan for his help in collating documents and Erin Doss for providing helpful readings. Although this article relies primarily on textual analysis and the insights of Kenneth Burke, a second article based on the ethnographic methods (interviewing, observation, etc.) has recently been published by Cultural Studies <=> Cultural Methodologies. That article does not develop Kenneth Burke’s insights.

2. The FLA’s argument was further strengthened through the tactical use of business jargon – root causes, best practices and sustainability. While sustainability had been laced throughout earlier arguments, root causes and best practices may have sealed the deal for conservatives. The general idea of root causes and best practices are traced to business gurus, Peters and Waterman (1982). Van Heerdon allowed the jargon to surface through success stories. He relayed the story of one organization failing to be in compliance but when they searched for the root cause, they found that the employees had taken their masks and gloves off because they felt that it slowed down their work. Thus, the root cause approach showed that by teaching the employees the necessary safety guidelines and reasons for wearing their masks they could return to compliance. The root cause approach did not attempt to trace the root cause for having to wear the masks to begin with and thus is highly suspect. For example, small cotton processing plants in Africa require workers to wear masks as the cotton fibers can be dangerous to their lungs, but fine particle screens could be placed over the conveyor belt to reduce fiber pollution, possibly a more costly solution, but perhaps more comfortable for workers (See Zachary, 2007 for information on cotton production in Africa and a visual of a cotton gin in Zambia). This type of solution to the root cause is not considered by the FLA. Nevertheless, the business jargon reinforces the credibility of the FLA to deal with business issues. With regard to best practices, van Heerdon told the story of interviewing workers to find out their most serious grievances. A group of men reported that they were not paid enough to cover the costs of a funeral when a family member died. The solution van Heerdon promoted was to take a small portion of every man’s salary and put it into a joint funeral fund so that any man could draw from the fund when such sad circumstances presented themselves. The story ended there. Never did the FLA President and CEO consider raising the salaries of the men.

Counter-arguments by Scott Nova were equally persuasive to those in favor of the WRC/DSP.  He told stories of young Muslim girls who complained that their wages were being paid to their fathers. The WRC saw to it that their wages were paid directly to them. Once given the chance to handle their own finances, the girls flourished. Some even used “the money to return to school to complete their education.” This, Nova claimed, is directly dealing with the problems. He also addressed all of the concerns raised by the FLA and added testimonials concerning the legal decision and antitrust concerns. Nova assured the audience that the DSP would make it even easier to address the concerns workers were facing and at no risk to universities. The rhetoric of a living wage and union representation, although frightening to proponents of laissez-faire capitalism, acted as a similar tactic as the business jargon in that it gave the liberal constituents a comfortable form of talk to support their argument and provided the WRC with credibility during this time of rhetorical turbulence.    


Applebaum, R.P. & Bonacich, E. (April 7, 2000). Choosing sides in the campaign against sweatshops: The key is enhancing the power of workers. Chronicle of Higher Education, B4-B5.

Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and philosophy and other essays (Trans. B. Brewster). New York: Monthly Review Press.Archived news release (May 5, 1996). U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Public Affairs. Washington D.C. retrieved 1-27-2007.

Athreya, B. (April 7, 2000). We need immediate, practical solutions. The Chronicle of Higher Education, B5-B6.

Bitzer, L. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1, 1-14.

Bruner, M. L. (2002). Global constitutionalism and the arguments over free trade. Communication Studies, 53, 25-39.

Burke, K. (1969). A rhetoric of motives.  Berkeley: University of California Press. (Original work published in 1937)

Burke Lefevre, K. (1995). Rhetorical Invention: A web source for scholars and students. Retrieved on April 12, 2009 from http://www. rpi.edu/dept/llc/invention.

Castells, M. (2000).  Information technology and global capitalism. In W.Hutton & A. Giddens (Eds.) Global capitalism. ( p. 52-74). New York: The New Press.

Charland, M. (1987). Constitutive rhetoric: The case of the peuple Québécois. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 133-150.

Clair, R.P. (2012 in press).  Engaged ethnography and the story(ies) of the anti-sweatshop movement. Cultural Studies<=>Critical Methodologies, 12(2), 132-145.

Ehrenreich, B. (August 17-23, 2001). Baton twirling: L.A.’s finest train Italian police on crowd suppression. LA Weekly, p. 28.

Esbenshade, J. & Bonacich, E. (July/August 1999). “Can conduct codes and monitoring combat America’s sweatshops?” WorkingUSA, 21-33.

Featherstone, L. & United Students Against Sweatshops (2002). Students against sweatshops. London & New York: Verso.

Fontaine, A. (April 19, 2004). “Sweatshop labor fight renewed: Student senate passes resolution, urges University to join WRC” available at http://media.www.fsunews.com

Galestock, K. (July/August 1999). Sweatshops: Labor standards and codes of conduct. The College Store. Retrieved from http://www.nacs.org/info/cs/99-mj/advance_look up.asp.

Ganesh, S. (2007). Grassroots agendas and global discourses: Tracking a planning process on children’s issues. In B. J. Allen, L. A. Flores, & M. P. Orbe (Eds.) Communication within/across organizations, XXX, ( p. 289-316). Washington D.C.: National Communication Association.

Ganesh, S., Zoller, H. & Cheney, G. (2005). Transforming resistance, broadening our boundaries: Critical organizational communication meets globalization from below. Communication Monographs, 72, 169-191.

Giddens, A. (1999/2000). Runaway world: How globalization is shaping our world. New York: Routledge.

Gore, A. (2006). An inconvenient truth. Documentary. Hollywood, CA: Paramount.Hunger Strike Update (November 20, 2006) by Anonymous. Press release. WestLafayette, IN more information available from http://purduehungerstrike.org  

Hunter-Gault, C. (July 16, 1996). “Naming names.” Transcript. PBS MacNeil/Leher Productions.

Ingram, J. (2002). Hegemony and globalism: Kenneth Burke and paradoxes of representation. Communication Studies, 53, 4-24.

Jones, K. (n.d.). “The guy who made Kathie Lee Gifford cry” Monitor, Issue 21,  p. na http://www.monitor.net/monitor.

Lindsley, S. L. (1999). Communication and the “Mexican way”: Stability and trust as core symbols in maquiladoras. Western Journal of Communication, 63, 1-31.

Marcuse, H. (1999). Reason and revolution. Amhurst, NY: Humanity Books.

McGee, M.C. (1975). In search of ‘The People’: A rhetorical alternative. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 61, 235-249.

Merritt, G. E. (April 5, 2006). UConn backs worker rights plan” http://www.courant.com/news/local/hc-ctuconnsweatshop0405.artapr05,0,5766317.story?coll=hc-headlines-local

Marburger, J. (January 26, 2007). Student reveals reasons for participating in hunger strike” The Purdue Exponent. West Lafayette, Indiana. np

Pelzek, E. (March 22, 2006). “UW one of eight universities supporting anti-sweatshop initiative. The Daily Cardinal. http://www.dailycardinal.com/index.php?option=com content & task=view&id=224Itemid=40

Peters, T. J., & Waterman, R. H. (1982). In search of excellence. New York: Harper & Row.Press release from Martin C. Jischke (December 12, 2006). Untitled. Available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/UNS/html3month/2006/061212JischkeDSP.html.

Purdue Hunger Strike Update (November, 2006). Retrieved on September 27, 2010 from http://newsinfoshop.org/article.php?story=20061127153108737

Rothberg, P. (December 2006). Hunger Strike at Purdue. Retrieved September 27, 2010 from http://www.theneation.com/section/DSP

Special report: Corporate welfare (Nov. 9, 1998) Time: The weekly newsmagazine, 152 (19), pp 36-54.

Stewart, C. J. (1999). Championing the rights of others and challenging evil: The ego function in the rhetoric of other-directed social movements. Southern Journal of Communication, 64, 91-105.

Symon, G. (2008). Developing the political perspective on technological change through rhetorical analysis. Management Communication Quarterly,

Thomas, A. (November 17, 2006). “Students occupy Jischke’s office in protest over vote.” The Exponent, Vol. 120, No. 174, p. 1 & 4.

Zachary, G.P. (January 14, 2007). “Out of Africa: Cotton and cash.” New York Times, Section 3,  p. 1 & 7.

Creative Commons License
"Rhetorical Ingenuity in the New Global Realities: A Case of the Anti-Sweatshop Movement" by Robin Patric Clair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.kbjournal.org.