Group calls for UNT support on labor rights

Group calls for UNT support on labor rights

Group calls for UNT support on labor rights
April 24
10:43 2015

Julian Gill / Staff Writer

UNT Students for Fair Labor held a vigil on Thursday in the Library Mall to commemorate 1,138 underpaid workers who died in the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh, and to gain student support in compelling the administration to affiliate with a labor rights group.

One of the Fair Labor representatives, Dalton Wakefield, said the broader focus was getting UNT to associate with the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization.

“Were holding this vigil to remind people to say, ‘Hey, as consumers and university students we have an obligation to the people who produce our clothing,’” Wakefield said. “And it’s kind of scary right now that, as a university, we don’t know which factory our clothing is being produced at.”

Wakefield said the group has sent a letter and follow-up email to UNT President Neal Smatresk every week since January, asking that he consider joining the WRC.

After the group met with him on Monday, Wakefield said they would receive a definitive answer by next Wednesday at 6 p.m.

“We were kind of disappointed about how the meeting turned out, because we’ve been sending him information for half a year now,” He said.

Smatresk told the North Texas Daily on Tuesday he had not arrived at a decision on the terms of the agreement, adding, “WRC appears to be a good organization,” but maintained that more research should be done before UNT makes it official.

“Maybe we should take it to students,” he said. “And if it’s something they care about, should it be a part of student fees?”

In order to join the WRC, UNT would have to send a letter agreeing to a moral code of conduct, designating with which garment factories the university can work.

The university would also have to pay an affiliation fee, which is one percent of UNT’s apparel licensing fee. In return, the university would be notified on the working conditions of worldwide factories that produce UNT clothing.

Denton Wesley Foundation, Latino Civil Rights Organization, Models of Style Exposed, and the Geography Club are of the 21 UNT organizations joining Students for Fair Labor in pushing for this deal.

“We really wanted to get student support out and really show this was something that students care about,” member of Students Against Trafficking and Slavery Sarah Olivares said.

After Olivares presented testimonies from people affected by the Rana Plaza tragedy, she asked students to tweet or call Smatresk and let him know this is an important issue.

“We want him to know that our clothes are coming from people getting paid way below minimum wage,” Olivares said. “Fifty-six cents a month is crazy for someone to live on.”

Students took turns crafting wreaths with numbered ribbons, each representing one of the lives lost in the Rana Plaza tragedy.

Speech pathology junior Naziba Hossain is from Bangladesh and tied several ribbons on the wreaths.

“We see underpaid workers all the time and we see how they suffer,” she said “And they work for American and European companies, but they don’t maintain good working conditions there.”

Computer engineering junior Rad Wadud is also from Bangladesh, and enjoyed seeing a UNT organization advocate an issue that seems so far away.

“If our people see that some other country actually cares about it, they would probably be more cautious about the policies,” he said. “I think this is great that UNT is doing something with this and hopefully this seeks the attention of the president.”

Featured Image: Amid a crowd, UNT Students for Fair Labor member Dalton Wakefield implores students Thursday in the Library Mall to call on UNT President Neal Smatresk to align the university with the Workers Rights Consortium. Smatresk will make his decision by Wednesday, April 29 on whether or not the university will fund affiliation with the WRC. Photo by Dalton LaFerney – Views/Digital Editor

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Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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