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Students' Sweatshop Simulation Draws Attention To Labor Rights Violations

Cara Palmer |
March 28, 2012 | 7:05 p.m. PDT

Senior Editor

(Cara Palmer)
(Cara Palmer)
The use of sweatshops defines the norm of companies in the garment industry. Companies source from factories that are characterized by abysmally low wages, dreadfully unsafe working conditions, and repressive limitations on workers’ rights to associate and unionize. The collegiate apparel industry, as a part of the larger garment apparel industry, is not exempt from employing the norm.

A college or university may decide to source its apparel from a company that does not support and enforce a “code of conduct” outlining basic requirements a factory must meet with regard to workers’ rights, such as eliminating child labor, setting minimum wages, or allowing freedom of association. In those cases, which are unfortunately common, colleges and universities are not actively supporting workers’ rights to the extent that they are able or should.

When colleges and universities enter into licensing contracts with companies that do not ensure that they are sourcing from factories that treat their workers fairly, those colleges and universities cannot avoid complicity in the “race to the bottom,” a pattern of behavior of apparel companies that hop from one factory to another and from one country to another in search of the cheapest labor. The hopping takes place after workers at a factory are able to unionize and exercise their rights, or when countries make attempts at legally improving the rights of workers, hence the “race to the bottom.” Companies insist on increasing their profit margins at the expense of workers. To do so they will look to source from factories and companies with the worst working conditions, and the worst record with regard to workers’ rights.

The University of Southern California (USC), although requiring licensees to uphold a code of conduct, has not succeeded in eliminating the use of sweatshops in the production of Trojan apparel. Students at the University of Southern California (USC) are determined to make this fact visible, in the interest of gaining support for a more effective enforcement of the policies USC’s administration currently has in place to combat the use of sweatshop labor.

The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) hosted a sweatshop simulation in front of the USC Bookstore Wednesday to raise awareness about the sweatshop labor that is used to make Trojan apparel. Acting the part of workers in a sweatshop, bent over a table sewing clothing with cardinal- and gold-colored thread, were five USC students and SCALE members. Behind and in front of them hung signs displaying questions and phrases, such as "Where does your Trojan gear come from?:" "I make only 29¢/hr" and "This jacket is worth what I make in 1 month." The simulation and the accompanying signage, occurring directly in front of the bookstore in which much of USC's apparel is sold, displayed some of the conditions workers must endure each day, and the negligible reward they receive for their toils.

Handing out fliers with SCALE’s message, other members of USC’s labor rights group drew in passersby with information about the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the only independent, third party sweatshop-monitoring organization, with which USC still has refused to affiliate, even after a decade of receiving information regarding the WRC’s activities, petitions for affiliation signed by thousands, and vocal faculty and student support, expressed, in part, through SCALE’s activities on campus since its inception.

SCALE, in hosting this event, continues its encouragement of the university to enforce labor standards, and its encouragement of the Trojan family to voice their opposition to a continuation of the status quo. With the resources available to USC, the fact that sweatshop labor is still used to produce Trojan apparel is unacceptable.

It is up to students to stand up for the rights of workers by influence their universities to source their apparel ethically.


To get involved with SCALE at USC, contact them here.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.



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