UT will join the Workers’ Rights Consortium, the President’s Office announced Wednesday. The news elated student activists in the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition, which has been urging University administrators to join the independent labor monitoring group for several years.
The protestors have argued that UT’s longtime membership in the Fair Labor Association did not do enough to ensure safe working conditions for overseas factory workers who produce Longhorn apparel. In April, 18 UT activists were arrested at a sit-in at UT President Bill Powers’ office. At the time, the University said it considered the issue closed.
This month’s change of policy came after small-group meetings between Powers and the student activists, says Tara Doolittle, UT’s director of media outreach. “We had some very productive conversations with the students and just decided it was in our best interest to have two groups looking at workers’ rights,” Doolittle says.
Bianca Hinz-Foley, a Plan II junior and an organizer of the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition, says she was thrilled by the news. In February, she visited a Honduran factory where UT apparel was made and wasn’t satisfied with the conditions she saw and heard about from workers there. “It was disheartening to continue campaigning even while UT said the case was closed,” Hinz-Foley says, “but we knew it was the right thing to do. This is a historic and unprecedented victory for workers’ rights.”
UT will continue its membership in the Fair Labor Association in addition to the new membership, Doolittle says, and the $50,000 required to join the Workers’ Rights Consortium will come from athletics licensing revenue.
A sign at the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition rally (April 18, 2012), via Amy Johnson on YouTube.