UT students strip off clothing to advocate against sweatshops

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Students stood nearly naked on the West Mall on Friday, wearing little more than boxes and signs with slogans such as “Bareness for Fairness,” and “Worker Rights are Human Rights” to bring additional oversight into the factories that produce UT apparel Friday.

Students Against Sweatshops held the event for the National Week of Action from United Students Against Sweatshops. This is the second year the organization performed a naked tabling event. The group is asking for a meeting with President William Powers Jr. in which they will present their case that the University should allow the Workers Rights Consortium to oversee the production of apparel that bears the UT logo, said geography junior Carson Chavana, Students Against Sweatshops member. United Students Against Sweatshops helped start the consortium in 2001.

UT currently contracts with the Fair Labor Association. The association’s board includes representatives from different universities, non-government organizations and apparel manufacturers such as Nike and Adidas.

“We see it as a conflict of interest because they are corporations monitoring their own factories,” said Billy Yates, an international relations and global studies junior and Students Against Sweatshops representative.

Because the consortium involves student representation on its board, the organization believes it is not partial to corporate interests and will ensure fair working conditions, Yates said.

“We’re proud of our University, and we’re proud to wear burnt orange,” said Latin American studies senior Cait McCann, the co-president of Oxfam, an environmental and human rights advocacy group. “We want to make sure our University lives up to its core values by protecting worker’s rights.”

UT partnered with the association when it began in 1999 as the product of a task force by former President Bill Clinton.

The consortium has 180 university partners, while more than 200 universities affiliate with the association.

Last spring, Students Against Sweatshops and its partner group Oxfam, worked with Student Government to pass a resolution urging the University to join the consortium. The groups have since sent letters to Powers and other administrators. Students are not satisfied with the response, Yates said.

Powers responded to letters from the groups saying, “The [association] maintains processes for monitoring, remediating and verifying fair labor practices and safe conditions in factories where apparel is manufactured.” University representatives have personally visited 10 factories in the last four years in China, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, he said.

Assistant athletics director Craig Westemeier, who works in the office of trademark licensing, serves as the University representative on the board.

“We’ve been on the forefront and have been ensuring to the best of our ability that the companies that we license are doing what they need to be doing in terms of how do they source and how do they decide on a factory that’s going to produce their product,” Westemeier said.

Westemeier said he believes this is something students should be interested in but their claims are not well researched and that the association has made significant gains over the past 12 years for workers rights.