Conscious spending protects fair labor and ethics

In a world of runaway convenience, people don’t stop to investigate and challenge the ethicality of their own purchasing decisions. In recent decades, there has been a radical change in the way consumers approach clothing.

“We consume 400 percent more clothing than we did even 20 years ago,” Maxine Bédat, co-founder of ethical e-commerce platform Zady, said. “This has been done by fast fashion companies cutting corners, using cheap material, constructing a cheap product and using cheap labor.”

The UT campus is no stranger to this conversation. In the last year, Students Against Sweatshops UT, a student group affiliated with the nationwide United Students Against Sweatshops, organized several on-campus protests. Over the course of protests from December 2014 to March 2015, USAS called for the University to drop contracts with VF Corporation and 289c Apparel, companies that are semi-exclusively producing University of Texas merchandise. Both have been accused of labor violations.

Sarahi Soto, a sociology senior and member of USAS, said that the organization is currently trying to push the University to end relationships with companies like VF Corporation and 299c Apparel. 

“[Continuing these licensing deals] will undoubtedly strip the University of its leverage to follow our own labor code of conduct, and moreover, hinder us from our ability to govern our own apparel supply chains.” 

The University’s affiliation with companies such as these companies continue to directly support unethical standards and poor working conditions with — you guessed it — the money that students spend on UT merchandise.

But this isn’t to say that UT students are aware that their consumption of Longhorn apparel supports sweatshop labor. Soto adds that if students were aware of how Longhorn apparel is made, they would feel obligated to do something about it.

Some Austin-based companies are challenging existing ethical standards of production, and their example of outward transparency demonstrates that our University can do better. Raven + Lily, an Austin-based apparel company, has gone the extra mile to ensure that their products are transparently made, ethically sourced and empower those who make them. According to their website, they employ workers at fair trade wages and secure sustainable incomes, health care and education. 

With this transparency of ethical employment in the apparel industry available to us as consumers, we now have the right to ask questions of ethicality to all apparel companies.

“Transparency in the way clothing companies source their products is important,” said Bédat, “As a consumer you have enormous power. When you make a purchase you are taking a stand, making a vote for what you believe in.”

When you choose to consume unethically produced materials, you are supporting unethical practices. But when you educate yourself on the means by which local producers contribute to an ethical environment, you are seizing an opportunity and creating a channel for change. 

Gentry Railsback is an advertising senior. Follow her on Twitter @gentryrailsback.