More than a dozen students lay down in front of the Tower on Tuesday in a “die-in,” protesting the conditions of sweatshops where official UT apparel is made.
Students Against Sweatshops UT, a student group affiliated with the nation-wide United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), organized the protest and intended it to pressure campus administration into understanding that students want a sweatshop-free campus, USAS member and sociology senior Andrew Messamore said.
Messamore said the organization expected about 30 people to participate in the die-in. He said USAS encouraged participants to wear UT or Dallas Cowboys apparel because the group wanted to emphasize the relationship between clothing and where it comes from.
“UT is the biggest producer of college apparel in the world, and we forget where burnt orange comes from — it often comes from Bangladesh, it comes from Indonesia, it comes from Honduras — so all of these places get forgotten in the commodity chains,” Messamore said. “And if we think about the worker that made [the] clothing, I think that changes the meaning of this deal.”
Messamore said USAS organizes protests because student bodies and voices are the most powerful way of reaching the administration. Taking up space and remembering the lives of garment workers through demonstrations is much more powerful than presenting a resolution in student government or writing an op-ed, according to Messamore.
In a March 2015 letter responding to USAS’s concerns for garment industry workers and requests to sever ties with certain companies, UT President William Powers Jr. said he “reaffirm[s] the University’s opposition to exploitative employment practices.” The University recently approved a new licensing agreement that reduces the number of suppliers from 2,000 to about 20.
“Specifically, we hope that this partnership will allow the University to focus more attention to detail on compliance performance, better identify areas for improvement, and continue to promote safe working conditions,” Powers wrote in
USAS has written lots of letters to administrators this semester and hasn’t poured as much effort into organizing demonstrations such as the die-in, social work senior Franchesca Caraballo said.
“I guess the way you gauge letter effectiveness is if the person responds and if they follow-up with your demands,” Caraballo said. “So, in that way, President Powers has responded to quite a few of our letters but has not answered one of our demands — not even just a simple meeting with students — [he] has not granted us that.”