Craig Westemeier

Franchesca Caraballo and Sarahi Soto from Students Against Sweatshops talk to Xiaoije Wei about their protest in front of Gregory Gymnasium on Wednesday evening.

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Students Against Sweatshops protested a new 10-year merchandising agreement between UT and 289c Apparel, which protesters allege has exhibited a pattern of labor violations in developing countries.

Under the contract, 289c Apparel, which specializes in making university-themed clothes, would produce collegiate merchandise for UT. 

At the protest rally held at Gregory Plaza on Wednesday, the organization’s leaders claimed that the University administration has systematically ignored the concerns of the student body regarding 289c Apparel’s harmful labor practices.

The protest represented the organization’s latest efforts against the University’s involvement with 289c, according to psychology sophomore Andrea Flores.

“In the beginning of the semester, we caught wind that 289c was trying to get on our campus,” Flores said. “So we sent out a [Freedom of Information Act] request to get some more information, and, around the same time, we had workers from Bangladesh come on campus and speak out against sweatshops. Finally, surprisingly, we got a meeting with Craig Westemeier, who is the assistant athletics director for UT, which is huge.”

Flores said the meeting was not productive because Westemeier refused to admit that there was a bidding process occurring for UT’s merchandising contract.

“He flat out denied that there was even a bidding process going on,” Flores said. “We asked that there be community dialogue before we make this huge decision, but he said, and I quote, ‘Right now, we don’t have anything to have a community gathering for.’ Again, this was three weeks before 289c was chosen to be UT’s next licensee.”

UT alumnus Achilles Morales spoke at the rally and said the new business relationship could affect the University’s affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium, a watchdog organization that reports back to the University regarding labor rights violations perpetrated by its suppliers.

“When the University of Southern California signed an agreement with 289c, they ultimately disaffiliated with the [Worker Rights Consortium] because the company was under too much pressure from the organization,” Morales said. “We are concerned that the same thing could happen at UT.”

Texas Sports reported that UT remains committed to ensuring the workers creating Texas products have fair working conditions. The University will conduct factory visits and continue its relationship with the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association, according to the report.

Regardless, Petro On, ethnic studies senior and Students Against Sweatshops member, maintained that Students Against Sweatshops will not stop their efforts until the University cancels the deal.

“It’s not too late,” On said. “It’s been done before, and we can do it again.”

Tower Carwash and its tower replica is one of several companies the University of Texas has accused of a trademark violation. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s longhorn, burnt orange and tower are stolen on occasion, but its trademark office works to take them back.

Jered Matthysse, senior associate for Pirkey Barber PLLC, a law firm contracted by the University to enforce its trademarks, said trademark violations happen more often in the marketplace than on campus, by companies purposefully or accidentally associating themselves with the University.

“They’re using the University’s trademarks to trade off the University’s goodwill,” Matthysse said. “The most important aspect is to protect the value of the trademark, considering UT-Austin makes the most money of royalties from their licensing program than any school in the country.”

Craig Westemeier, UT’s trademark and licensing associate director, said legal action is almost never taken against student organizations that mistakenly use a University trademark. Student organizations can only use UT trademarks if the group is sponsored by the University, which can cause confusion among students. 

“Sometimes it’s just pure enthusiasm and passion for the University, and people think they can use it and we explain why we have to protect the mark,” Westemeier said. “With registered organizations usually they will submit a design, and we will work to direct them to make changes to their image or graphic so they are within the rules and policies.”

Westemeier said issues involving student organization merchandise or logos are usually found and stopped when organizations submit ideas for approval by the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Trademark Licensing.

“There is a lot of turnover in student organizations, so there is not institutional knowledge of what the rules are about what they can put on T-shirts or use in a logo,” Westemeier said.

Matthysse said not all instances of trademark violations are about merchandise. In May 2012, a federal court ruled in favor of the University in a suit against Tower Car Wash, a Cedar Park business with a replica of the campus tower at its locations.

Student Government vice president Ugeo Williams said SG will work with Westemeier to make information of the University’s trademarks accessible to students. However, Williams said he would like to make it possible for more students to have access to the trademarks.

“A lot of students just want to express that they are a part of the University, and not all organizations can,” Williams said. “We want to help make things more clear when students are registering their organizations for the next year, what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Westemeier said the trademark office is currently creating a website to make information more clear to student and faculty, and to explain the rules and help prevent potential infringements.

Longhorn fans nationwide are proudly purchasing and wearing Longhorn gear, according to rankings by the Collegiate Licensing Company that put UT-Austin as the top seller of licensed college merchandise in the country.

This marks the seventh consecutive year UT has taken the top spot on the company’s annual list. According to its website, colleges brought in $4.6 billion in revenue in 2011 from licensed merchandise.

Craig Westemeier, UT associate athletics director of trademark and licensing, said he was not surprised due to the University’s history of placing at the top of this list.

“There are some great schools out there, but we have a very strong brand and a very strong program,” Westemeier said. “We have a lot of great fans that help build that program.”

Westemeier said UT’s Longhorn brand and design help contribute to the University’s popularity.

“I think we have a very unique color and a logo that you do not see everywhere else,” Westemeier said. “In the collegiate realm, it is a nice, clean logo.”

He said the ranking demonstrates UT’s nationwide reach.

“When you have such a large alumni base, that is where it starts,” Westemeier said. “Our alums go on and do great things, and they move all across the country. That is part of the success that drives our licensing program.”

Kim Drummond, spokesperson for Texas-based custom license plate company My Plates, said the UT license plate is the company’s most popular collegiate plate of the 40 it offers. Drummond said that to date, My Plates has sold more than 3,000 UT plates, with Aggie plates coming in as second-most popular.

“We, as a Texas-based company, certainly understand the loyal following the University has,” Drummond said. “We are not as familiar with the national standings. That is not something I could have predicted before it came out, but you cannot live in Austin and not see the Longhorn logo.”

Drummond said in today’s world, anything can be turned into licensed college merchandise. From license plates, laptop cases, shirts, clothes and even key rings. The logo can be seen everywhere.

“The University can print the Longhorn colors and logo on just about anything they like,” Drummond said. “Every Texas shirt, every hat and every license plate expresses support of the school.”

Printed on September 5, 2012 as: "Longhorn gear sales top charts yet again"

To protect the integrity of its trademark Longhorn logo, the University made a Kansas high school alter its own.

The schools have been communicating for several months and administrators at Gardner Edgerton High School are now in the transition process of removing the logo from school property.

“They were very cooperative and wanted to understand,” said assistant athletics director Craig Westemeier, who oversees the Office of Trademark Licensing. “We took the tact of educating them on our marks and our reasons for having to protect them.”

The high school’s new logo is more detailed than its previous one and now includes the full body of an ox instead of just its face. Calls to the school were not returned as of press time on Monday.

“We gave them time to change it on their field and their uniforms, as well as other areas,” Westemeier said. “We have worked with them so we could cut a deal to allow them to transition out of the use of the logo.”

Westemeier said although making a high school in Kansas change its mascot seems unnecessary, it is the responsibility of the owner to protect their trademark.

“We continually are out protecting the mark and educating people on the need for us to do that,” he said. “That is part of owning a trademark — you have to be out there protecting the mark and to maintain its integrity and its value and, more importantly, the legal rights to it.”

In recent years, UT has seen an increase in the number of trademark violations, Westemeier said.

“With the growth and popularity of the University brand as well as the Internet, we have seen additional issues surrounding infringement and dilution of the marks,” he said.

A recent trend shows that U.S. colleges have been instructing high schools across the nation that they cannot copy their logos, according to a Nov. 26 New York Times article.

Law professor Robert Bone said that universities protect their brands especially against people who make their own UT gear without first getting permission to use the logo.

“The revenues from merchandise licensing can be very substantial for a large and well-known university like UT,” Bone said. “From what I can tell, however, the Kansas case is not about merchandising.”

Instead, he said trademark owners with strong brands want to maintain its exclusivity.

“Many trademark owners fear that if they don’t police unauthorized uses of their marks aggressively and uniformly, they will risk losing their rights in the mark,” Bone said. “Companies that invest a lot in building a brand don’t want to take any risks.”

Austin trademark lawyer Cristi Trusler said UT has the right and duty to exclude others from using their trademark

“Because UT has had problems in the past with people trying to copy their mark, they’re probably trying to take a pretty aggressive approach,” Trusler said.

An affiliation with an anti-sweatshop nonprofit group is not enough to ensure that all UT apparel is made only under ethical working conditions, said students in a meeting with UT’s trademark licensing department on Monday.

After the Oxfam and Students Against Sweatshops protest on Nov. 8, assistant athletics director Craig Westemeier agreed to meet with three members of the groups to discuss the University’s potential affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium, a global labor rights organization.

UT is currently affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit group seeking to end sweatshops in factories. Westemeier serves on the association’s board.

“We’re certainly going to take into account the information that the students we spoke with today provided,” he said. “We’re going to take a look at it and do what we think is best for the University.”

The consortium is composed of students, university administrators and independent labor rights experts. The Fair Labor Association consists of students, university administrators and representatives from major corporations such as Nike.

The association’s inclusion of corporate representatives creates a potential conflict of interest, which is why Oxfam and Students Against Sweatshops feel that an affiliation with the consortium would be more effective, said Latin American studies senior Caitlin McCann, co-president of Oxfam UT.

“Because corporations are tied up in this process of monitoring, anyone from the outside looking at this on paper would say, ‘You have representatives from a company sitting on a board meant to monitor that same company,’” she said.

UT Student Government voted in favor of the University’s affiliation with the Consortium in April. The University has been affiliated with the Fair Labor Association for 11 years. During that time, the University has made steady progress toward protecting workers’ rights and improving working conditions worldwide, UT athletics director Chris Plonsky said in a Nov. 19 letter to the student groups.

“We’ve made progress, and we’ve had growth,” Westemeier said. “The FLA has been effective. If you can have a collaborative effort where you bring everybody to the table, you make better strides and help make change.”

Corporations sitting on the association’s board are convincing reasons why an affiliation with the group is not the best possible choice, said international relations and global studies junior Billy Yates, a member of Students Against Sweatshops.

“This is what we see as a better alternative,” he said. “As students that go here and pay tuition and the voices of the University, this is how we feel. We just want something that’s better.”