Students from two different organizations gathered at the Main Mall on Wednesday to protest the University’s involvement with a company known for using sweatshop labor.
Demonstrators sang altered Christmas carols to passing students to reflect their frustration with UT and an apparel company named VF Corporation, which produces clothing for brands such as Vans, Wrangler, The North Face and JanSport. The groups sang at their protest, “Jingle bells, VF smells, Powers get a clue.”
Amanda Dal, human development and family sciences and psychology junior, said the goal of the demonstration was to encourage the administration to find a more ethical apparels supplier.
“Several students who are a part of ‘United Students Against Sweatshops,’ as well as the ‘Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition,’ are here today calling on the University, particularly President Powers, to drop their relationship with VF Corporation, who is the umbrella corporation of a lot of really well-known brands,” Dal said. “VF has refused to sign on to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety, which upholds the safety of workers in Bangladesh that are producing clothing and garments.”
In addition to the demonstration, the group sent members to deliver a message to President William Powers Jr.’s office. Dal said this would be the third letter sent to Powers this semester, and, though they have received a response to the first two, Powers has yet to meet with students regarding the issue.
According to UT spokesman Gary Susswein, Powers already sent a letter to Douglas Parker, brand director of new business development for VF Licensed Sports Group, on Nov. 14 encouraging the corporation to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
“In the wake of several large-scale garment industry disasters that have occurred in Bangladesh these last two years, I can appreciate the issues that [United Students Against Sweatshops] seeks to remedy,” Powers said in the letter.
Franchesca Caraballo, social work and history junior, said the University’s affiliations must meet the high standard set by the student body as a community.
“I believe that if we want our students and faculty to uphold a certain standard of ethics, that we should demand the same of companies that we do business with,” Caraballo said.
Ethics studies senior Petro On said the protestors want to enlighten students about how some of their favorite brands are produced.
“I think, right now, students need to be more aware about where their apparel is coming from,” On said. “I don’t think a lot of students want to be wearing clothes that are sweatshop-made, but, as of right now, VF, as a company, has done a really good job about hiding all of that information from students.”
Caraballo cited the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed and wounded thousands of workers in Bangladesh in 2013 as a reason to withdraw support from companies that endanger their workers.
“The sad thing is that it was completely preventable,” Caraballo said. “There was no oversight, no inspections or anything done to ensure the safety of workers. It was negligence on the side of these corporations.”