Franchesca Caraballo

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops protested at the Main Building on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

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.”