The Crimson White

Student group tackles clothing campaign

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Shahriyar Emami, Staff Writer

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Amber Chan and the other members of her organization are trying to make a change on campus.

Chan is the president of Students for Fair Labor (SFL), a group that promotes awareness of workers’ rights violations and injustice, especially pertaining to the manufacture of university apparel. The group is currently working on a campaign for the rights of embroidery workers in El Salvador. The workers are mostly women and are employed by Vive La Fete, a children’s apparel manufacturer based in Miami, Florida.

“Our overall goal is to make multinational companies accountable to the people that they exploit who work on university campuses, in our communities and in the overseas factories where collegiate apparel is produced,” Chan said.

Chan said The University of Alabama has a contract with Vive La Fete and that the company is a logo licensee of the University, meaning that they pay the University to use the school’s logo on its clothing.

When asked for a comment about the existence of the contract, Chris Bryant, assistant director of media relations, said he does not yet have an answer.

“The Supe Store does not purchase product from that company,” Bryant said in an email.

While clothes from the company are not sold by the Supe Store, various styles and sizes of clothing bearing the University’s logos are available on Vive La Fete’s website.

THE ACTION PLANS

The Student Government Association passed a resolution on Sept. 27 as a call to the University to put Vive La Fete “on notice.”

“It’s not so much that SGA is specifically involved in day-to-day matters of permits and licenses with the logo,” said Sen. Cara Clay, a junior majoring in geography and economics and author of the resolution. “I’m just saying I want SGA to openly support this call for Vive La Fete to be put on notice.”

Clay, a member of SFL, said according to SFL, putting the company “on notice” entails communicating with Vive La Fete to immediately insist that the company pays its workers the the money they are owed, provides them health benefits and holds their supervisors accountable.

According to a Sept. 17 report by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a labor rights monitoring organization, Vive La Fete is solely supplied by Konfetty, a garment factory in Apopa, El Salvador. The report also detailed the findings, recommendations and status of an investigation against Konfetty for “violations of labor law and university codes of conduct against a group of workers involved in the production of collegiate apparel.”

Clay said the partnership with Vive La Fete is not with the NCAA. The NCAA was not mentioned in the WRC’s assessment; however, the assessment mentions IMG College Licensing, which is how Clay said Vive La Fete has permission to put the University’s logo on its baby clothing.

SFL delivered a letter to President Stuart R. Bell’s office on Friday, Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. Though Bell was not there, Rivers Jackson, a junior majoring in creative media, said 20 SLF participants read the letter detailing their demands to someone representing him and then gave her the letter to deliver to him.

Chan said she assumes SFL will be waiting to hear back from the University for a while, but she put Oct. 5 down in the letter as the deadline for when Bell should respond

“If we don’t hear a response from the president to our letter, we’ll escalate in various ways,” Chan said. “Our action plan is still in the works, but essentially we’ll be trying to base-build and rally more people to our cause before planning another big action.”

THE DEMANDS

Chan said Vive La Fete owes its workers over $1.2 million.  

“This semester, Students for Fair Labor is running a campaign against the baby clothing company, Vive La Fete, because of the egregious worker rights violations perpetuated by their management,” Chan said. “Vive La Fete employs over 300 women embroidery workers in El Salvador. However, the company pays them only a third of the minimum wage mandated by Salvadoran labor laws.”

Chan said SFL’s demands for Vive La Fete are $1.2 million in back pay, pension, vacation days, health benefits and the recognition of women’s rights to organize a union.

In the meantime, Chan said SFL members are constantly doing “class raps,” asking permission to speak about the issue before or after class to help spread the word.

Ultimately, the club hopes to get the University to cut its licensing agreement with Vive La Fete.

“This in turn would pressure the brand to treat their workers fairly and compensate them for what they’re owed,” Chan said. “If universities start cutting contracts, Vive will feel the heat and concede to our demands.”

Rivers said SFL has been focused on the Vive La Fete campaign for three weeks.

“We’re just trying to keep The University of Alabama accountable for the kinds of businesses that they deal with,” Jackson said. “And then also just seeing that human beings are treated equally and fairly, specifically workers, and make sure their human rights are met.”

Jackson said Chan is one of his best friends, so he began going to SFL meetings to support her.

“I ended up realizing how important, I guess, the work that they’re doing is,” Jackson said. “It’s a larger-than-ourselves impact.”

Jackson said Vive La Fete workers are grossly underpaid. He said the women work on garments as soon as they wake up and do not stop until they go to sleep.

“One story we were told was of a worker who ran out of fabric to use for her garments and instead of getting more fabric, she was just told to figure it out when she brought that issue to her employers,” Jackson said.  

THE NEXT STEP

Jackson said focusing on Vive La Fete as the club’s first campaign is reasonable because it is a smaller brand.

“With the Vive La Fete campaign, it just sort of makes sense as our first move for the school year just because, obviously, it’s not a big name brand,” Jackson said. “They’re not sold in-stores, it’s just primarily online. We believe that it’s very possible to convince the University administration to end the contract just based on those factors and it being a small brand, therefore, a small contract.”

Chan said it is easy for students to get involved in SFL, and even if students show up for a few actions this semester, it would mean the world.

If the Vive La Fete campaign is successful, SFL plans to initiate a campaign against Nike.

“We think with the success, we will sort of inspire all of us, as members of this organization, to keep going and keep that momentum,” Jackson said. “So then once we finish this campaign, we’re able to move onto the Nike campaign which is the lofty campaign but hopefully still doable.”

Editor’s note: Arielle Lipan, the managing editor for The Crimson White, is also a member of Students for Fair Labor. She did not contribute to the reporting of this story.

 

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Student group tackles clothing campaign