Student group protests for fair wage

By Anne Halliwell

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United Students Against Sweatshops hung a banner reading “Have a Heart: Cut VF” above the Rose Street Walkway on Tuesday morning and posed with “Solidarity” signs while passing out fliers to students on their way to classes.

Isabel Cochran, a natural resources and environmental science junior, said the signs were to show the student organization’s support for workers across the world.

“We’re not a charity, we’re a solidarity organization,” Cochran said. “We’re not imposing our views (on workers), we’re listening to what (they) need.”

This year, USAS asked the university to cut ties with the VF Corporation.

The university has a licensing contract with the VF Corporation and sells apparel from Majestic Athletic and JanSport, subsidiaries of the business, in the UK bookstore and online.

VF has not signed the Workers Rights Consortium Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which was drawn up in reaction to the 2013 collapse of a garment factory, Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh.

The goal of the protests is to meet with university president Eli Capilouto and convince him to stop doing business with the VF Corporation in favor of Alta Gracia, a living wage company that has some clothing in the UK bookstore.

“VF Brands, Majestic and VF Licensed Sports Group has not directly sourced college apparel in Bangladesh since 2010, isn’t doing so today and has no intention of doing so in the future,” wrote UK spokesman Jay Blanton in an email to the Kentucky Kernel. “Moreover, VF is a founding member … of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.”

The VF Corporation is one of 26 companies that committed to the Alliance, instead of the WRC Accord. The company’s website states that the two efforts share a driving interest in improving workers’ rights.

“While we appreciate the interest of USAS in Alta Gracia products, at this time it is our understanding that the company is operating at capacity as it meets the challenge of demands across the country,” Blanton wrote in the email. “Alta Gracia is working with various partners to address the need for greater capacity. We will monitor that effort.”

UK Public Relations had not found the percentage of VF Corporation apparel in the bookstore versus the amount of Alta Gracia apparel before print.

Cochran said that USAS has not proposed a cost analysis of switching from VF Corporation apparel to Alta Gracia apparel to anyone in administration or the bookstore.

“We don’t really believe it’s our job,” Cochran said. “The university … should do the right thing to make sure workers are treated fairly.”

Sociology senior Brock Meade said it’s important that the university makes sure that the manufacturers they partner with are also aligned with their values in terms of human rights.

“I still want to be able to support my university, my school, my basketball team,” Meade said. “I just want to do that while wearing sweatshop-free clothes.”

Cochran added that Capilouto has not met with USAS to talk about the VF Corporation this year.

“We continue to appreciate the students involved in USAS and the issues they are bringing to the table,” Blanton added in the email. “It is gratifying that they are taking the time to make their voices heard on issues concerning the environment and the rights of workers. That is why President Capilouto and other senior administrators have taken the time to meet with USAS members and correspond with them on numerous occasions.”

The Kentucky Kernel reported in October that USAS students held a private meeting with UK Chief of Staff Bill Swinford. The details of what was discussed were not released.

“USAS members accordingly know all of these facts regarding VF and UK’s steadfast commitment to closely monitoring these important issues,” Blanton wrote in the email. “It would be our hope that going forward they would acknowledge that.”