Students protest sweatshops

Students protested sweatshops near Cooper hall Wednesday afternoon in hopes of meeting with USF System President Judy Genshaft. 

Students walking near Cooper Hall on Wednesday afternoon may have noticed an odd sight: a small group of students wearing cardboard boxes as clothes with a banner reading “Make USF Sweat Free.”

The students were representing United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), an organization that seeks to end university affiliations with sweatshops and other unethical labor organizations. 

Samantha May, a USF senior and regional organizer for USAS, said the boxes helped to prove their point and to bring attention to the demonstration.

“Because we are a student organization, what makes us effective is … being fun,” she said.

The aim of the demonstration was to convince USF System President Judy Genshaft and other university administrators to sign with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), which is a corporate social responsibility organization that pushes for rights for factory laborers.  

“It is our duty as human beings to not abuse other human beings,” May said.

The participants chanted, “Make USF sweatshop free” and “Sign with the WRC,” as they marched to the Patel Center to deliver a letter to Genshaft that requested meeting times to discuss the benefits of signing with the WRC.

USAS has been attempting to contact USF administrators since March with no meaningful response, according to May.

“The university is engaged in discussions with the United Students Against Sweatshops group,” University spokesman Adam Freeman told The Oracle. “We continue to give consideration to their recommendations and will determine the next appropriate steps.”

USF is currently signed with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which is another organization that aims to protect worker rights.  However, the FLA is not independent of the factory industry and does not conduct worker-wellness surveys outside of the workplace like the WRC does.

To be affiliated with the WRC, universities must pay a one percent fee from the profits of licensed merchandise, up to $50,000.

The University of Florida and the University of Miami are among the Florida schools to sign with WRC.

Becky Gibbs is another member of USAS and a participant in Wednesday’s demonstration.

“If (USF) can’t sign with the WRC, how can we say we’re on the same level as UF and UM?” she said.

May said she is concerned about USF not signing with the WRC because she believes this goes against many of USF’s supposed core values.  She mentioned the Global Citizenship Award as an example of USF encouraging students to be globally aware, but not doing the same in producing USF apparel.

“It’s our belief that the university doesn’t practice what it preaches,” May said. “It is important that USF stand by their own words.”

May added that it is important for USF to protect the rights of workers who make its apparel because it can save lives while also helps the university’s image.