Soc group asks “where does campus clothing come from?”
A student-led initiative began earlier this year as a discussion in a St. Thomas University sociology class.
Words have turned into action.
Students began looking into our clothing on campus and are now rallying for “sweat-shop” free clothing at the campus bookstore.
Kasey Forbes is one of those students. He says he got involved after learning about sweatshop labour through documentaries.
“We’ve all heard of kids working for little money in bad conditions, but once you’ve seen the images of a room full of 14-year-old kids getting paid six cents an hour to work 18 hours a day, where they’re not allowed to talk or leave their station, it’s hard to get that out of your head,” Forbes said.
“Something needs to be done, and fortunately there is a larger anti-sweat movement under way. It’s time STU got involved with it.”
Under the guidance of sociology professor Matthew Hayes, several students are trying to get STU on board.
Follett Higher Education Group is the organization that includes 880 university clothing vendors all over the U.S. and Canada. This includes our campus bookstore.
Elio DiStaola, director of public and campus relations at Follett, says the organization requires every vendor to abide by a labour code of conduct.
“Violations can happen, but we have the ability to pull items directly from our shelves,” DiStaola said. “It has happened before. If all of a sudden the cost of a garment goes down 25 per cent, it is trigger criteria. It means we should take a deeper look into what caused the price to lower.”
Follett’s vendor labour code of conduct says its intention is to enforce the purchasing of “merchandise only from vendors who share its commitment to fair labour practices.”
The code has a list of employment standards vendors must abide by – wages and benefits, working hours, child labour, forced labour, health and safety and the list continues with five more.
DiStaola says they also encourage venders to be Fair Labour Association (FLA) members. He says 98 to 99 percent of all their venders are – including UNB’s campus bookstore.
But there is another clothing vender on campus: Subtowne. The owner, Phil Battah, said his suppliers must present a Certificate of Compliance.
“[It’s] saying that companies meet the requirements,” Battah said. “The UNB and STU apparel must be verified as fair trade. However the clothing is manufactured all over the world, we have no verification on the conditions of the factories, although our suppliers are all reputable companies.
“If we were aware of any of our suppliers using sweatshops we would not use them. However we cannot be 100 per cent sure that they are not.”
And being 100 per cent sure is what our students want. They held a movie and discussion last Thursday, and decided their first step would be to encourage the university to join student movements like United Students Against Sweatshops, an organization formed in 1998 to help students form anti-sweatshop campaigns.
“We are now looking into the possibilities of getting involved with outside organizations [like USAS] to help ensure that the products offered at these places are, and remain, fair labour products,” Forbes said.