University Co-op to order sweatshop-free apparel from factory with fair conditions

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Members of the UT chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops are continuing their efforts to make UT apparel sweatshop-free — this time by getting the University Co-op to purchase $53,000 worth of apparel from a factory with fair working conditions.

Members of the organization contacted George Mitchell, president and CEO of the University Co-op, earlier this fall and asked him to order $250,000 worth of the store’s apparel from Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic that has come to represent the pinnacle of fair working conditions in an underdeveloped country, United Students Against Sweatshops members said. 

After multiple correspondences with organization members, Mitchell announced the decision Friday to make an initial order of $53,000. He said it would not be practical for the University Co-op to make a $250,000 initial purchase.

“Anyone in the retail business will tell you that [$53,000] is a ‘significant purchase.’” Mitchell said. “Anything more as an opening order would be irresponsible on my part.”

Mitchell said he wants to test out the apparel before making a larger order, and his decision came after looking into the success of other university bookstores. He said the bookstores at New York University, Oregon State University and Washington University have all made initial orders of a similar size from Alta Gracia.

Mitchell said he would be open to ordering more of the apparel in the future if it sells well.

In a letter to its members sent Friday, Mitchell said the success of the apparel’s sales will depend largely on the actions of the organization.

“If you do accept this offer and would like to work with us, we will do our part in marketing the merchandise in a civilized and positive fashion,” Mitchell said in the letter. “All the bookstore managers I contacted emphasized the fact that the Alta Gracia product sales were successful only if the student organizations stayed actively involved.”

Bianca Hinz-Foley, Plan II sophomore and United Students Against Sweatshops member, said the organization will remain involved in the University Co-op’s efforts to sell the apparel, and she hopes this purchase can be the start of a strong relationship between the organization and the store.  

In response to the purchase, Hinz-Foley said the organization has planned an event titled “RACE TO THE TOP: UT students celebrate the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the UT Co-op over the issue of ethical apparel” for Wednesday at 1 p.m.

The event will be held outside of the University Co-op on Guadalupe Street. Attendees will run from there to the UT Co-op Administration office, located at 507 W. 23rd St., roughly two blocks away.

The run will symbolize “that collegiate garment manufacturing does not have to be a race to the bottom ... but can instead be a chance to uphold human rights and embody ‘what starts here, changes the world,” according to a statement released by the organization Monday.

Printed on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 as: University Co-op tests ethical apparel