Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition fights for fair conditions for UT apparel producers


Yaguang Zhu

Guest speaker from the Worker’s Defense Project Luis Rodriguez listens to remarks during Teach-In: Labor, Migration and the Struggle for Dignity in the Workplace hosted by Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition Wednesday night.

David Loewenberg

Months after the University announced plans to join the Worker Rights Consortium, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition shows no signs of slowing down in its fight for fair working conditions for producers of UT apparel.

The student group held a “teach-in” Wednesday evening where they discussed how students can impact labor conditions in the Austin community and around the world. The group also announced plans to launch a campaign focused on the University Co-Op.

Sydney Dwoskin, international relations and global studies junior and member of the coalition, said UT’s plan to join the Worker Rights Consortium is an essential first step in the struggle to secure labor rights for those making UT apparel. She said now that UT plans to join, the focus needs to shift to the specific factories UT gets apparel from. She cited a particular factory in the Dominican Republic, called Alta Gracia, as a model for apparel factories in the developing world, and said the group plans to ask the Co-op to buy some of its UT apparel from the factory.

“We can’t just stop at the Worker Rights Consortium because that doesn’t guarantee that people are getting paid a living wage, getting health benefits and having enough money to feed their kids,” Dwoskin said. “We want to take it a step further. We want to get Alta Gracia in our bookstore. We want to buy clothes from our bookstore and know that they are being made by people that are getting paid like that and getting treated like that.”

The teach-in included a Skype conference with Alta Gracia workers in the Dominican Republic.

In June, the coalition scored a victory when UT President William Powers Jr. announced that UT would sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium, a human rights monitoring group that will oversee the production of UT apparel abroad. The coalition had spent years advocating the cause. In April, 18 Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition members were arrested for trespassing after holding a sit-in in Powers’ office.

Geography and the environment lecturer Richard Heyman, who participated in the teach-in, said a unified force at home and abroad is necessary to advance substantive change in the rights of workers.

“This event tonight is a great example of the necessary solidarity among workers in the global south, transnational immigrants and native workers in the global north,” Heyman said.

Heyman also said workers’ rights here in the United States remain an important issue.

“We don’t often use the phrase ‘sweatshops’ to describe construction workers and house cleaners, but in effect those sectors suffer the same poor pay, degrading treatment and dangerous conditions of factory workers in the global south,” Heyman said.

Holding up a UT T-shirt, geography junior Jessica Alvarenga said students need to see beyond the UT logo.

“What do you see when you see this shirt?” Alvarenga asked. “Do you see the worker? Do you see the sweat? Do you see the harassment that a worker faces everyday just to produce this shirt?”

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Sweatshop coalition eyes radical changes