USAS holds a candlelight vigil on campus

By Morgan Eads

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The lawn separating the UK’s Main Building from South Limestone was illuminated Monday night by the candles of 75 students and community members concerned about workers’ rights.

The student organization, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), hosted a candlelight vigil for sweatshop workers to kick off their second campaign. The organization has achieved its goal of increasing the UK’s products sold from Alta Gracia. Alta Gracia is a unionized factory with working conditions actively better than those of other clothing factories.

Now the group has set its sights on a different goal, convincing the UK administration to affiliate the university with the Worker Rights Consortium. WRC provides accountability for universities and helps them become aware of the conditions the workers who provide their merchandise endure. Alli Sehon, anthropology senior and USAS member, called for those in attendance to write UK President Eli Capilouto and ask him to support affiliation with the WRC.

The university is already affiliated with an organization known as the Fair Labor Association, but Spanish and sustainability junior and USAS member Samantha Meador says this is not sufficient. Meador stated the FLA is not transparent and does not allow for student and community involvement the way WRC does, a fact she says could affect how accountable the group is.

“We’re not necessarily asking for the university to start over and unaffiliated with the FLA, but to affiliate with the WRC additionally,” Meador said. Student speaker, psychology sophomore and USAS member Brock Meade also mentioned ways the WRC could be more beneficial to worker’s rights and the university.

“Unlike the Fair Labor Association, the Worker’s Rights Consortium allows workers to be interviewed outside of their work place,” he said.

This allows for more accurate accounts of working conditions when the fear is removed from telling the truth, Meade said. Former sweatshop worker of Honduras and current director of Lexington Fashion Collaborative Soreyda Benedit-Begley also spoke at the vigil. Benedit- Begley recounted some of her experiences in the sweatshops of Honduras.

She told about the need for her to work to help support her family at the age of fourteen and how people, girls mostly, would line up outside factories and beg to be chosen for work.

“Fourteen-year-olds here shout for Justin Beiber, fourteen-year-olds there shout to get a job,” Benedit-Begley said.

She said in a place where money was so scarce, the small wages of the sweatshops seemed like a lot.

“I actually wanted to leave school to work in those places because I was like, yeah, I’m making money,” Benedit-Begley said.

The work day, generally spanning from seven in the morning to ten at night was full of stress and expectations causing workers to skip lunch and breaks, she said.

“There is always a continuous pressure, if you were not keeping up you could be fired,” Benedit-Begeley said.

Since coming to Lexington about 13 years ago, Benedit-Begely has become involved with fashion—not just the glamour of it, she says, but the background of how things are made. One student said the program was a motivation to act.

“I think hearing from Soreyda was very striking for me,” said Delia Gibbs, psychology and Spanish senior. “Hearing first-hand her accounts was very powerful.”