For over five hours Thursday, students held a sit-in protest outside administrators’ offices to raise awareness of working conditions in factories that produce University apparel — eventually leading President William Powers Jr. to come down from his office to speak with the group.
Students Against Sweatshops, a UT branch of the nation-wide United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), organized the protest, which focused on the licensing agreement UT approved in March with 289c Apparel. The agreement reduced official apparel suppliers from about 2,000 to 20 but also created a deal between the University and the Dallas Cowboys’ official apparel company. Franchesca Caraballo, USAS member and social work junior, said the Cowboys’ apparel company is known for having sweatshops in countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.
“The deal essentially means that the Cowboys’ merchandising will have a monopoly over our apparel, and that’s problematic because they have a long range of labor rights abuses and human rights abuses in some of their factories located around the world,” Caraballo said. “The deal was made with no student input.”
Caraballo said the organization will fight the 10-year agreement until it goes into affect in June 2016.
According to University spokesman Gary Susswein, UT has multiple partnerships with workers’ rights organizations.
“UT-Austin is a member of not just one, but two separate organizations that monitor worker safety in apparel factories — including one that was specifically recommended, backed and endorsed by United Students Against Sweatshops,” Susswein said.
About 15 students occupied the space over the course of the protest. After about four-and-a-half hours, Powers came down from his office, to tell protesters the new deal bolsters UT’s ability to oversee its shortened list of suppliers as well as protect worker safety.
“We take workers’ rights seriously, whether it’s in the United States or abroad,” Powers said. “We monitor [these issues] through the groups that we’re in. We respond to reports that we get and we take them seriously.”