As late summer turns into a chilly fall, students across campus are putting away their cargo shorts and miniskirts in favor of the only consistent fashion trend: sweats. Everyone has that one pair of sweatpants that are worn for days on end and that often don’t see the inside of a washing machine for weeks.
MSU students are loyal to their school-spirited sweats, varying from the typical green-and-white getup to a vast array of colors, all screaming “MSU!” In the face of another cold Michigan winter, many students might be surprised to learn that much of college apparel, most likely your own sweatshirts, are produced in sweatshops.
[sweatshop] The best barriers against the bitter cold and the most popular way to support Michigan State are clothes that are often produced in sweatshops. In third world countries with struggling economies, children as young as six are put to work in creating cheap goods that are shipped over to the United States and sold for low prices at outlets near the MSU campus.
“Knowledge of child labor would make me change my buying habits,” special education senior Laura Edwards said. “When Nike came out for using child labor, I stopped buying those products. Not a lot of places get in trouble for it, and that is a problem.” The battle against child labor and sweat shops is being fought by students in ways other than simply refusing to buy the products.
A registered MSU student organization, Students for Economic Justice (SEJ), concentrates on worldwide issues and is focused on the fight against child labor and specifically on ties MSU has with sweatshops.
SEJ has been a chapter in United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), a nation-wide group with representatives from colleges across the country, since 2000. SEJ has been a leading force in the fight to pull out of the Fair Labor Association, feeling that the FLA doesn’t do enough to protect workers’ rights. Instead, SEJ supports the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). Members of SEJ feel that joining the WRC would be one of the most important steps in ending MSU apparel being produced in sweatshops.[gear]
Saamir Rahman, a regional organizer of USAS from the University of Michigan, said that today, many factories have taken university demands to stop child labor seriously, and that a factory in violation would be checked out immediately. “USAS is fighting child labor by getting schools to join the WRC, which is an independent monitoring body whose member schools have adopted satisfactory codes of conduct,” Rahman said. “USAS specifically helps mobilize student action against companies that have been found to violate the codes, and also campaigns to improve the current codes and get more universities to affiliate with the WRC.”
MSU is one of only two schools in the Big Ten Conference that has not yet joined the WRC. President M. Peter McPherson has become more open to the idea of the WRC, thanks to the efforts of SEJ, but has yet to take action in joining.
Nonetheless, MSU apparel remains widely available. With Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear t on Grand River Avenue and the Meridian Mall on several CATA routes, students are literally minutes away from a new sweatshirt or pair of track pants. MSU is a campus full of “poor” college students, and stores like Steve and Barry’s are attractive because of incredible bargains, such as the “2 for $15” deal on short and long sleeved t-shirts.
For some students, these cheap deals outweigh possible sweatshop involvement. “I am not going to stop buying sweats here on campus,” no-preference freshman Eric Tamborino said. “Even if Steve and Barry’s uses child labor, I am not giving up my $20 sweatshirts.”
Winter is approaching and the temperatures are dropping. With nothing but blustery winds, snowstorms, and icy sidewalks on the horizon, students may be tempted to buy a new comfy MSU sweatshirt to curl up in while studying. Wouldn’t you rather be sure that your college apparel is made sweatshop-free?
Students for Economic Justice meet on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the third floor of the Union. Visit their website at