In an effort to raise awareness on campus about sweatshop abuses, an information table staffed by volunteers was set up in the in the student center all day last Thursday for Sweat-Free Day.
The table, borrowed from the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), held information about companies who use sweatshops, sweatshop abuses, Web sites and things people on campus can do to help.
The goal of the campaign is to increase awareness of the problem and ways in which individuals can act to work towards positive solutions.
Rocky Citro, senior psychology and sociology major, organized the awareness campaign and recruited volunteers.
Citro first had to educate himself on the issue before he could teach others. He presented formally to nine classes of varying subject matter, Golden Key and informally to individual students to gather support.
The volunteers wore orange shirts made by Bienestar International (BI), a fully unionized manufacturing company that has a sweat-free mission and puts out a line of clothing called No Sweat Apparel (www.nosweatapparel.com). Citro distributed the shirts for a contribution to the cause and raised over $340 for the company.
“I believe it is important to support corporations like BI so that they can grow,” Citro said. “There is a market for socially conscious clothing, as evident by many surveys that have been conducted over the past decade. If we can help these companies grow, they will be able to put out a wider variety of styles.”
Citro is doing the campaign as part of his application for the Fred and Mae Rummel Scholarship. He worked extensively with Nino Scarpati, director of Service Learning, to develop the final idea.
Citro also found supporters in campus organizations, such as Progressive Student Alliance, the Women’s Center, Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL), the Asian American Association and Golden Key, along with many individual recruits.
Citro said that he “became interested in this issue through an anthropology course called ‘Global Urbanization’ and an honors history class called ‘Sex, Class & Race,’ taught by Dr. Dawley of the History Department, and head of the Center for Social Justice at TCNJ.”
There are many ways in which sweatshops abuse their workers. Wages are often below what is needed to meet the basic living needs of the worker to support a family and are often times illegal.
Some employees are forced to work overtime, as much as 14-18 hour days or more for 6-7 days a week. Even then, many workers are not paid correctly for the amount they produce.
Workers may be physically and sexually abused while working in unsanitary conditions, which pose serious health risks. They are also in danger of being trapped in case of emergency such as a fire by improper confinement to their workstation.
Overly strict rules prohibit bathroom breaks and force women to physically prove menstruation. Workers are without protection since companies use threat of dismissal, incarceration or violence to keep unions from forming.
Many people are misinformed about sweatshops. For example, they are found in the United States as well as abroad and many domestic sweatshops are located in Los Angeles.
Also, looking for “Made in USA” on the tag of an article of clothing does not guarantee the shirt is sweat-free. Instead, look for the “UNITE” label. Most startling, while some corporations are more progressive than others, basically all name brand companies use sweatshops at this point.
Citro said, however, that it was not hopeless. “I have faith that eventually, just as we developed national labor regulations in the early 1900s, we will develop the national and international regulations that are needed to drastically reduce sweatshop abuses on a global scale.”
Students can help by buying union clothing, buying less frequently, writing to congressmen and cutting or covering labels on their clothing. However, often just boycotting is not optimal because then workers will lose their jobs, and the goal is to improve working conditions and unionization, not cause more harm.
Justin Barliar, senior information systems management major, was motivated to volunteer after Citro presented in one of his classes.
“I wasn’t aware there was such a problem because you don’t hear about it much in the news anymore,” Barliar said. “I was surprised by the horrific conditions of the factories and how almost everything we buy is actually made by sweatshops.”
Citro thinks the issue is so pressing because it is of global impact, and is especially relevant not only to human rights, but women and children’s rights, who are often most cruelly exploited. But he sees hope in the response he has gotten and the growing option and support of “sweat-free” clothing.
“However long the process may take, it will be worth any amount of time and effort because ensuring the fulfillment of everyone’s basic human rights is a cause of the utmost importance,” he said.
To purchase a sweat-free t-shirt visit www.tcnj.edu/~citro2/sweat-free.html http://www.tcnj.edu/~citro2/sweat-free.html.