University Co-op invests in humane supplier, student coalition not satisfied


Chelsea Purgahn

Bianca Hinz-Foley, Louchin Chi, and Jessica Alvarenga represented UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition in a meeting with the University Co-Op Monday afternoon.

Taylor Hampton

The University Co-op president said he will invest in merchandise from a factory that the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition has advocated for because it provides fair working conditions, but the investment is much less than the coalition asked for.

The Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition asked George Mitchell, president and CEO of the University Co-operative Society, to purchase $250,000 in licensed UT merchandise from Knights Apparel’s Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic. Mitchell said the Co-op will commit to a $15,500 order from Alta Gracia, which would have a retail value of $35,000.

Jessica Alvarenga, coalition member and geography junior, said the coalition endorses this supplier because it pays its workers a living wage and it has an open-door policy for inspectors from the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions in factories.

“Students will always support ethical apparel because our motto is ‘transforming lives for the betterment of society,’ and that is exactly what would happen here,” Alvaraenga said.

Eighteen United Students Against Sweatshops members were arrested last spring for participating in a sit-in at University President William Powers Jr.’s office as part of an effort to get the University to join the WRC.

In an interview with The Daily Texan last week, Jessica Alvarenga said the organization will take similar action if necessary to ensure that its demands are met on this issue.

Mitchell said committing $250,000 without testing the product is a business gamble that will put employee jobs at risk if the product does not sell. He said the sales are tied to the success of the football team and have declined in the last three years.

Louchin Chi, coalition member and government sophomore, said from the business side, he understands testing a product is responsible and appreciates the offer, but the coalition will continue to ask for the Co-op to purchase more from Alta Gracia.

“Since we trust the humanity behind the product we would try to provide your demand,” Chi said. ”And we will campaign for money regardless.”
Bianca Hinz-Foley, coalition member and Plan II sophomore, said the proposed order offer is not sufficient to provide a long-term partnership between the Co-op and Alta Gracia. She said the merchandise supplied by the Co-op’s commitment would not be enough to satisfy the demand.

“$35,000 for a pilot is set-up for failure,” Hinz-Foley said.

She said the people who signed a petition for the Co-op to spend $250,000 with Alta Gracia are proof of the demand.

“These are consumers that are interested in buying one particular type of clothing and that is one they can wear with pride — and that is ethical clothes,” Hinz-Foley said.

Mitchell will meet with the coalition again Friday to discuss further action.

Printed on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 as: Co-op invests in humane apparel supplier