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A hardy, dedicated band of University of Montana students - and some alums - have made the Oval their home and their stage this week.

Armed with sleeping bags and protest signs, the group officially called UM Students Against Sweatshops, is trying to create campus awareness about workers rights, unlawful child labor and the power corporations have in dictating human rights.

"People wonder why we should care about sweatshops and what is going on in third-world countries, but this comes home, and it comes home to our campus," said Burke Stansbury, an organizer of the event. "The stuff that is made in those shops is stuff that is licensed and sold in the UM bookstore. It's the stuff bearing the Grizzly insignia."

On Tuesday, the protesters first staked their spot and have since stood ground between Main Hall and the building named after Montana's famous activist, Jeannette Rankin. Their modest encampment is marked off with signs that read: "It's 2 o'clock, do you know where you're pants are being made?" And, "Women in El Salvador are paid $3 for every $15 university t-shirt that they sell."

The students, who will continue protesting on Friday, said their main objective is to pressure UM administrators to help fight sweatshop abuse.

"We want UM to sign on to the Workers Rights Consortium," Stansbury said. "It's a human rights organization, which 78 other universities are members, and it investigates and monitors where university apparel is manufactured. They look into things like working conditions, fair wages and reproductive rights of female workers."

Robert Frazier, UM vice-president in charge of licensing, was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

Organizers of the protest said they plan to deliver a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to UM administrators.

"No one is innocent in this," Stansbury said. "It's tough to say which company is good and which company is bad - it's the whole corporate world. We hope pressure from consumers and from students will make universities change the way they do business."

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