To protest the labor practices involved in producing USC apparel, students — dressed in recycled materials ranging from newspapers to plastic bags — assembled in front of Tommy Trojan for a runway show Wednesday.
Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation wants the university to use an independent monitor to audit factories that produce USC apparel, according to the event’s organizer Sarah Newell, who is a sophomore majoring in business administration.
“We want the students to know this,” Newell said, “so we can gather as a student body and pressure USC to sign on to the Workers Rights Consortium … which would monitor USC’s factories fairly and ensure that all the workers there are being treated fairly.”
The fashion show, in which students walked down a runway in what Newell called “garbage clothes,” meant to show the students’ dislike for clothes produced in sweatshops.
“This year we wanted to send a message that we would rather wear garbage than wear USC sweatshop clothing,” Newell said. “We would rather wear newspapers and trash bags and the stuff I found in the back of my closet than USC sweatshop clothing.”
Curran said the university opposes sweatshop labor and has taken measures to prevent its usage. In 2008, USC instituted new policies for its licensees, which led to about 130 licensees leaving the program because they could not or did not want to comply with the new regulations.
“There’s been a long history of working to try and address the issue of sweatshop labor,” Curran said. “Obviously, it’s something the university does not support and we agreed with SCALE that we are all against it.”
Currently, the university requires licensed companies producing USC products to sign a code of conduct and hire third-party auditors to review their factories. According to Matt Curran, director of USC’s licensing and trademark programs, requirements such as these limit the amount of licensees the university approves.
“On average in a given year, we will receive over 100 license applications,” Curran said. “Right around 15 percent meet the criteria to become a licensee and really a large part of that is due to the social responsibility standards and requirements we have.”
Newell said the group feels that relying on private third-party auditors can lead to inadequate reviews. She said these monitors are often unreliable and their reports are not always accurate.
“They are using four monitors right now that are all funded by the brands they are monitoring,” Newell said. “Nike is funding the company monitoring Nike factories, so obviously you get things like factory visits that are planned in advance so they can clean up all the stuff at the factory.”
Curran said the university is informed when issues appear in audits.
“That information is shared with us and if there are issues, they are identified,” Curran said. “We do expect the licensees to work with the factories and any other stakeholders to try and make those corrections and make sure they are addressed.”
The rally was a response to a 10-year agreement USC signed with Silver Star Merchandising, a Dallas Cowboys subsidiary, last year to produce the university’s athletic apparel. Newell said Silver Star Merchandising, known as 289c Apparel, has a history of labor violations.
Curran, however, said the agreement deal will cause USC apparel to be produced in fewer factories, allowing for greater oversight, The agreement also came with a commitment that 289c Apparel will increase its efforts to improve working conditions.
“As a result, they have added additional, dedicated staff and are actively in discussions with industry experts and industry organizations to develop and implement programs to positively impact factory working conditions,” Curran wrote in an email.
SCALE believes that if USC joins the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent monitor for collegiate apparel, conditions in factories producing USC apparel will improve. One hundred and seventy five other universities have signed onto the consortium, according to the WRC’s website.
“All of the Ivies, all of the UCs, all of the Cal States — every other major university, for the most part — have signed on,” Newell said.
Josh Sepulveda, a spring admit who will be joining the sophomore class, joined the demonstration because USC has not signed on to the WRC. Sepulveda, who wore shorts and a shirt made entirely of plastic bags, said he heard about SCALE because of a semi-nude protest they held last year.
“It seems like they made a big ruckus around campus [last year],” Sepulveda said. “And I’m all for making ruckuses and making chaos, but for a good cause.”
Last year, administrators met with SCALE to get more information about USC joining the WRC.
“Dating back to last year, we gave them a set of questions and requests for more detailed information on how the WRC operates, and we did that to try to evaluate the associated costs, the tangible value that a WRC membership would bring to our social responsibility programming beyond our current efforts,” Curran said.
According to Curran, students in SCALE are currently researching and gathering the information that administrators requested.
“We believe an ongoing, open dialogue is the most constructive way for us to work together,” Curran wrote in an e-mail.