University News

Teach-in calls for end to sweatshop purchases

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Student Labor Alliance urged students to end sweatshop labor for collegiate apparel at a teach-in presentation last night. About 25 students, mostly SLA members, attended the event in Salomon 001.

“If you go into the Brown Bookstore and you look at the things being sold, the sweaters, the T-shirts – almost everything is being produced in a sweatshop,” said Gabrielle Tomson ’15, a member of the alliance. “Almost everything is produced by people earning poverty wages.”

Tomson called for students to “pressure the University” against using sweatshop labor to manufacture clothing and other goods.

SLA leaders Mariela Martinez ’14 and Stephanie Medina ’14 visited Honduran and Salvadoran factories this semester on a trip sponsored by the United Students Against Sweatshops. Martinez and Medina, who collected narratives from factory workers and examined their working and living conditions, showed video clips and photographs at the teach-in.

“What’s going on is a violation of all our vendor codes,” Martinez said. “Here we are, not doing anything.”

SLA called for students to combat sweatshop labor by endorsing factory disclosure and University codes of conduct.

SLA’s next step is encouraging the University to renew its commitment to the Designated Suppliers Program, which enforces fair codes of conduct in factories producing university apparel. Despite claims that the suppliers program violated antitrust laws, the Department of Justice announced last December that it would not challenge the program.

The University first endorsed the program in 2008, according to an online memo.

SLA is planning follow-up events to mobilize student support, including a lie-down protest next Wednesday on the Main Green against further sweatshop labor. SLA members will meet with University administrators following the event to ask Brown to recommit to the suppliers program.

“I’m in a class about the Asian American movement right now, and this week we’re reading a book called ‘Sweatshop Warriors,'” said Brian Lin ’12. “I thought it was important not only that I read about this, but that I understand what my peers are doing to investigate.”

Lin said he was influenced by the event. “I’m definitely going to tell my class about this and bring five or 10 friends from my class to the event (next Wednesday),” he said.

Organizers argued that ending sweatshop labor also has far-reaching effects.

“If we are able to raise their standard of living and actually remember that there are hands behind the sweaters and hands behind the products, we can put a face to the hands and not just see them as a third party,” Medina said. “We can raise the standard of living for all people.”

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