University joins anti-sweatshop group for apparel

Jane King and Jane King

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in the Aug. 18 freshman edition. It is being reprinted for students who did not move in early.

On July 1, BGSU officially became a member of the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a non-profit organization, and now pays to make sure clothing sold on campus does not come from sweatshop labor.

WRC is an organization that helps to enforce codes of conduct designed to make sure factories that make university clothing respect the rights of workers, according to their Web site.

After reading a BG News article explaining that University apparel was made in sweatshops, Tom Bethany, an Undergraduate Student Government senator, and Chelsea Lambdin, a former USG senator, began a campaign to stop the University from associating itself with the controversial labor.

“It was an extremely difficult but rewarding process,” Lambdin said.

Lambdin and Bethany did research online and met with administrators to find out which companies the University used to make their apparel.

They then investigated those companies to learn which of them were alleged to use sweatshops.

After speaking with representatives from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), another non-profit, and the WRC, Lambdin and Bethany went to USG and Undergraduate Student Senate for support. USG began to send letters to University administrators, asking them to join the WRC.

But they refused, joining instead the FLA, which is funded partially by the organizations it monitors, according to Lambdin. She thought the WRC to be much more efficient.

After The BG News article ran, supporters began their efforts with a letter writing campaign by students and faculty. Meetings with several University administration members also were held to discuss joining the WRC, Lambdin said.

Bethany and former USG President Aaron Shumaker helped to draft and support legislation written by Lambdin and Joe Churpek, another supporter.

“The bookstore and certain other administrators were highly uncooperative and would not inform students of why they refused to join the WRC,” Lambdin said.

Bethany said there was hesitancy about the WRC because of its Designated Supplier Program, which would enhance the enforcement of codes of conduct.

“That program is more of a comprehensive agreement and could cost a university a lot more money,” Bethany said. “But Chelsea clearly explained that the program was 100 percent optional and could not be forced on the University.”