Taking the Sweat Out of University Logo Apparel

If you will excuse a bit of parental pride, I would like to report that my son Thomas, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has been involved in a protest aimed at getting UNC to participate in a program that protects the rights of workers who sew university logo apparel. On Friday, students held a demonstration on campus, while a smaller group is in the fifth day of a sit-in at the building containing the office of Chancellor James Moeser, the target of the pressure campaign. Carolina Blue clothing is among the most popular “brands” of university apparel.

The UNC actions are part of the latest wave of recent campus actions in support of the Designated Supplier Program (DSP), an initiative of the Worker Rights Consortium and United Students Against Sweatshops. Recent actions have taken place at schools such as Penn State University, the University of Montana, Appalachian State University and the University of Houston. While all the protests have been non-violent, more than 30 students were arrested last week at Penn State.

The DSP, launched in 2005, is an attempt to fight sweatshop conditions by getting universities to demand that licensee companies distributing their logo apparel make use of supplier factories that have been independently verified to pay a living wage and respect the right of workers to organize. Currently, more than 30 schools have signed on to DSP (including the entire University of California system), while officials at other institutions have resisted.

Apparel companies such as Nike, Champion (owned by Hanesbrands) and Russell Athletic (owned by Berkshire Hathaway) are among the big players in the $3 billion university logo market. Nike, the target of intensive protests during the 1990s over its use of sweatshop suppliers, has cleaned up its act, though the company itself has acknowledged that its suppliers do not always comply with its standards. Since monitoring its large number of plants—located in 36 countries—is impossible, the alternative is to direct business to a smaller group of factories known to treat their workers decently—hence, DSP. That way, students can ensure that the sweat in university apparel comes from wearers, not producers.

Note: The Worker Rights Consortium has an online database of factories around the world that produce university logo apparel.

5 thoughts on “Taking the Sweat Out of University Logo Apparel”

  1. Phil,

    First let me say that you should be very proud of your son. I have been working on the sweatshop issue for the past decade of my life and it is students like Thomas that keep me going. Second, I just wanted to offer a minor correction regarding your post. Nike has NOT cleaned up their act. They have done a great job in convincing the public they have through their PR efforts, but their products are still being made in sweatshops. I was in Indonesia with Nike workers a few months ago. They have less spending power now then when I first started doing my research/activism in 1997 and the level of fear that workers have of reprisals for organizing is off the charts.

    If you want to check out some of the work I have done on this issue, you can see some video news stories and a short film at http://behindtheswoosh.org/category/videos/.

    I hope this finds you well. Please let Thomas and his friends know that they have one more supporter out there.

    In solidarity, Jim Keady

  2. Jim,

    Thanks for your message and your correction. I meant to say “Nike claims to have cleaned up its act.” I’ll pass along your supportive words to my son.


  3. Phil, you should be justifiably proud of your son — a lot of children (perhaps understandably) react to their parents’ view by taking a different tack; the fact that he’s following in your footsteps indicates that your work resonates with him, and that he has great respect for the work you do, as do many of your peers …

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