In a complicated global trade network, getting sweatshop-free options at Western’s bookstore is complicated. But the United Students Against Sweatshops, the Associated Students, and the AS Bookstore have a plan.
The Associated Students Board voted unanimously April 5 to make a commitment to what is called the Designated Suppliers Program, in order to support efforts to get sweatshop free apparel options in the bookstore. Vice President for Student Affairs Ei-leen Coughlin or another university administrator will write a letter to the program’s working group to support the program.
Associated Students President Mark Iozzi, a member of United Students Against Sweatshops, said the Designated Suppliers Program creates a list of approved garment factories that meet student-determined conditions for factory-workers. Licensees and vendors that produce university logo clothing must source a certain percentage of ap-parel from factories that meet the program standards. Standards include paying work-ers a living wage, the right to organize, and having policies in place to deal with sexual harassment.
Iozzi said one goal of the program is to require brands to pay more to factories in return for long-term contracts with universities. In doing this, the cost to consumers for sweat-shop-free merchandise should be minimal.
“By creating a longer term contract they create job security, which means that the factories can afford to hire workers and not use temporary workers they don’t give benefits to,” said Iozzi.
The labor conditions decided by students are monitored by the Worker’s Rights Consor-tium, an organization formed by 150 schools from Ivy League universities to community colleges. The organization is independent, funded by member universities, and moni-tors but doesn’t enforce the conditions in factories that produce garments with university and college logos.
“[The Designated Suppliers Program] makes a real difference in thousands of peoples lives,” said Iozzi. “Even though this is a very small part of the global garment industry, and the garment in-dustry is just a small part of globalization as a whole, this program is one of the few areas out there where market based incentives can be used to make factory owners want to treat their workers better.”
Getting sweatshop-free apparel options in university bookstores is an involved process. Lara Mann, the manager of the Associated Students Bookstore, said there isn’t a stan-dard seal certifying garments as sweatshop-free, which is one of the reasons the Work-ers Rights Consortium started program.
Western joined Worker Rights Consortium in January 2007.
Mann said that she thinks the program is good, but she believes students should also work to include vendors and licensees in the process of adopting sweatshop free op-tions.
“We can have the schools saying this is good, but until there is a big enough group of vendors and product available, people are going to be clamoring for collegiate clothing,” Mann said.
Mann said ideally she’d like to offer sweatshop-free and regular clothing options for bookstore customers. She gave the example of the recycled notebooks sold at the bookstore, which many students are willing to pay more for.
“If it matters to people they’ll pay more for it,” she said.
Iozzi said some schools are reluctant to join the Workers Rights Consortium because it is a political stance. He hopes that if Western takes up leadership, that it will encourage other schools, especially ones with larger brand logos, to join the program. Universities are not locked into any contract and can back out of the organization. Universities united under the program will have a greater market pull. With the support of enough universities, the Designated Suppliers Program can create a market incentive for facto-ries to improve labor conditions.
“Tearing down global capitalism isn’t something that college undergraduates can do realisti-cally,” said Iozzi. “Changing the lives of thousands of workers all over the world through these market incentives is something we’re doing right now, and that’s really cool.”