U still sports sweatshop apparel

The University of Minnesota must make a stronger stand against buying sweatshop apparel.

by Annie Chen

As a society we pride ourselves on being a land of opportunity and freedom. We often think of America as exceptional; superior to the poor, less-developed nations because of the opportunities we are provided. This means, though, that we often overlook many of the problems people still encounter at home. I am talking about the existence of sweat shops. The public first became aware of them in the 19th century, and in 1865 they were actually banned in the United States, but that doesnâÄôt mean the problem has been eradicated. There is still a struggle for fair wages, safe work conditions and a fair work week. University of Minnesota students wear the gold and maroon with pride and cheer loudly at sporting events. Students here are also fortunate to attend a university with a diverse enrollment and a variety of school groups on campus. As a school, we have signed a code of conduct taking a stance boldly against the production of clothing in sweat shops. The code states that all clothes with any University logos on it will be made only in places that have safe work conditions and fair wages. However, the current system is failing us. Our beloved Gopher-wear is still made by the hands of the overworked and underpaid. This is because our code of conduct, while a great idea and the first step to getting our apparel sweatshop free, currently lacks a proper enforcement mechanism. The current system only works if workers of the factory report abuses to the enforcement group. This means that our apparel is still made in factory conditions where workers are afraid to report them to the authorities for fear of being fired and blacklisted from working at any other factory in the area. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) has been encouraging University administration to sign the DSP (Designated Suppliers Program). The DSP would create an appropriate enforcement mechanism to ensure that our clothes are made in a sweatshop-free environment. Instead of just saying we support sweatshop-free labor, the University would actually support it. Sweatshop factories continue to have a devastating impact on workers and communities in the United States. In this age of consumerism, people must rise to greater awareness about the effects of their purchasing decisions. What more, the University must continue its fledgling legacy of choking sweatshop-working conditions out of the American economy. It is as simple as improving the enforcement mechanism to ensure University dollars do not support the unjust labor practices we have rebuked in the past. Annie Chen MPIRG University undergraduate student Please send comments to [email protected].