Student group promotes new college gear

By Morgan Eads

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UK students formed a group in July with the mission of maintaining workers’ rights both locally and internationally.

United Students Against Sweatshops aims to increase the amount of Alta Gracia brand merchandise sold on and around campus.

“Alta Gracia is a unionized living wage university apparel brand, and they make T-shirts, hoodies and they just started making sweatpants for colleges,” anthropology senior and USAS member Alli Sehon said.

The company has a positive impact in the lives of its workers, she said.

“What’s great about them is that they are not a sweatshop. I’ve been to their factory. I’ve stayed in the house of a woman who makes the collars on T-shirts for three weeks of the summer and spent a lot of time with her and her family. I got to go to the factory and see them all there working,” Sehon said.

There are several T-shirt designs by this company at the UK Bookstore.

Sehon said the shirts cost no more than those of other companies who might violate worker rights.

“The reason that we know that Alta Gracia is so great is that they are actually monitored by an independent organization that gets no corporate money,” she said. “All of their money comes from universities and nonprofits, and what they do is they monitor apparel factories for labor abuses if someone doesn’t get paid.”

Sehon said USAS would like to see the university become affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium.

According to their website, there are 180 universities and colleges affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium.

The organization monitors the factories of apparel companies that universities and colleges use and report to the universities and students directly if there is a worker rights issue. It does not force the university to take action.

“What it does is it sets a standard,” Sehon said. “They’ll send you a report, then the question is, will you do something about it?”

Sehon said she believes becoming affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium would not only benefit workers but the image of the university as well.

Some students agreed becoming affiliated with Worker Rights Consortium would have positive outcomes.

“I’d say it’s something I’d support, I think all organizations should take into consideration where the things they sell come from and what they are selling in their name. I’d have to see if the organization was legitimate, but it seems like a good thing,” political science senior Matt Dearmond said.

Another student thought that certain university connections could be reflecting negatively on the school, and making changes could help how the school is viewed.

“I’ve heard there is a big controversy with Nike, and UK uses a lot of Nike, which may reflect negatively on the university for some,” accounting sophomore Grayson Switzer said. “If they changed that, it would definitely reflect better on UK’s image.”

Sehon said those who are interested can become part of this organization and the work it does.

“We welcome anyone and everyone that wants to get involved with the group. If people are involved in other groups and interested in being a coalition member, we are still reaching out,” she said.