Cards United Against Sweatshops visited Grawemeyer Hall to give a letter, and an engagement ring, to the University to encourage them leave contracts with clothing companies that use sweatshops.
The goal, they said, is to have U of L move away from VF Corporation, the maker of brands such as Jansport, to contracts with the company Alta Gracia, which does not use sweatshops and pays a living wage.
“We wanted to see if the University of Louisville would marry Alta Gracia,” organizer Rebecca Peek said to Provost Shirley Willihnganz in her office. “We also have a divorce contract. We wanted to give this to you and President Ramsey as kind of symbolically proposing to the University.”
Attached to the giant ring was a card that read “Marrying Alta Gracia = priceless.” The divorce contract was meant to be symbolic for the proposed split from VF Corporation.
“I’m not sure where we are at at this point,” said Willihnganz, who has met with the group twice. “I have been checking on the things I am supposed to do.”
She requested more information on increasing the amount of clothing from Alta Gracia in the bookstore. She also asked what VF Corporation is doing wrong, and why other schools have ended contracts with them.
According to Peek, the company has refused to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, which would provide for regulations that make clothing factories a safe workplace. She added that 80 percent of the buildings are structurally unsound, which puts workers at risk for another accident like the Savar building collapse of 2013.
As of now, the group’s main goal is to increase the amount of apparel sold by the bookstore made by Alta Gracia to 30 percent. They currently have three t-shirts, which Peek described as bland.
“We are asking for more options,” said Peek.
She said that schools such as Duke, Notre Dame and UK have had success in selling apparel made by Alta Gracia.
“We are still trying to verify why the bookstore cannot get more of the t-shirts, because they are telling me they cannot get them,” said Willihnganz during the meeting. “They very much want to get more of them and cannot get them.”
According to another organizer, James El-Mallakh, the success of Alta Gracia at other schools calls this statement into question.
“Basically, we know it can be done,” he said. “We do not actually believe that the bookstore is having difficulty.”
Peek said that while they have met with university officials, they have yet to see progress towards the results they want.
“We have been in negotiations with the Provost, but it has kind of stalled out,” she said. “We know from the Union reps that Alta Gracia can source clothing to the bookstore, probably next semester, so we feel like we are kind of getting the run around. ”
The group is determined to fight an uphill battle in raising the level of non-sweatshop apparel in the U of L bookstore.
“The university has a vested interest in keeping a high contract with companies like VF and Adidas. Shifting to Alta Gracia they would have to cut down on those other brands, and those brands pay us a significant amount for the licensing fee to U of L. ”
Click here for a video feature on the group.
Photos by Jacob Abrahamson / The Louisville Cardinal