Students, faculty request proof of non-sweatshop labor

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History Junior Katy Aus talks to neurobiology and history senior Kamene Dornubari-Ogid as they exercise at Gregory Gym Plaza as part of OxFam UT’s Working Out for Workers’ Rights. The group gathered to promote awareness of their campaign to ask UT to join the Human Rights Consortium and speak out against sweatshops.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

A group of students have delivered a letter to UT President William Powers Jr. demanding the University affiliate with a workers’ right group that would independently monitor working conditions wherever officially licensed UT merchandise is produced.

Members of fair labor advocacy groups, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition and Oxfam UT, gathered at Gregory Plaza on Wednesday, petitioning students to encourage the UT System to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent group that monitors factory working conditions for more than 180 universities nationwide. The group then marched to the Tower where Oxfam president Katy Aus delivered the letter to the president’s office.

In the letter, students said Powers has not made public the results of University commissioned research on factories that produce UT apparel, which he has the power to do.

The UT System is currently associated with the Fair Labor Association, an industry body that allows members to monitor the working conditions in their own factories.

The results of the research were presented to senior associate athletics director Chris Plonsky and assistant athletics director Craig Westemeier in April. Westemeier, who is a University representative on the FLA board, is also a member of the Office of Trademark Licensing, the body which ultimately decides who UT affiliates with.

Aus said this presents a conflict of interest because representatives from major UT apparel suppliers, including Nike Inc., sit on the board and are less likely to report infringements.

“There’s a critical lack of transparency with the FLA,” Aus said. “They don’t give out names of the factories so students can find out where their clothing is coming from. We’re asking the administration to release the research that has led them not to join the WRC.”

However, the groups are not accusing the UT System of using sweatshop labor, Aus said.

History professor Neil Foley, who attended the event, said he supported the students’ request for assurances that apparel carrying the UT logo or burnt orange color did not use sweatshop labor.

“There are serious questions that have been raised about the FLA,” Foley said. “People from the corporate world are producers of these products and sit on the board. If every one of our peer universities has signed on to the WRC, we need to know why UT has been so reluctant to do so.”

Economics sophomore Cody Levy said he hoped the University could provide its own assurances that officially licensed UT apparel is not manufactured using sweatshop labor.

“It should be clearly known that UT is not a university that indirectly supports something like that,” Levy said.

A spokesman from President Power’s office said he has not yet had time to respond to the contents of the letter.

Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2011 as: Coalition insist UT join labor group, monitor factory working conditions