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Cornell, PSU drop sweatshops

Credit: Rachel Inman/Art Staff Credit: Rachel Inman/Art Staff

Cornell University and Penn State University (PSU) recently added their names to the growing list of universities that have severed ties with Russell Athletics, the collegiate gear manufacturer for many schools. The company has lost some of its contracts due to the closing of its factory in Honduras.

The universities’ decision to end contracts with the apparel manufacturer was made because of the company’s motives for the future of the Honduras factory.

According to union representatives, Russell Athletics closed the factory mainly because of its workers’ attempts to unionize and not significantly because of the company’s economic concerns.

Two factory workers were brought into the United States and toured universities to tell their side of the story as workers and leaders of the union.

Moises Elias a Bovado, the president of the union, and Norma Estela Mejia Castellano, vice president of the union, came to the U.S. so that they could reveal what was happening in Honduras.

They explained the difficulties they had in forming the union, the threats they received, and the problems they wanted to erase. They also detailed the current status of unemployed workers in Honduras and how they looked to the U.S. government for assistance.

The two workers toured many universities, mainly those that had a contract with Russell Athletics, and recited their story to the students, staff, and faculty who gathered to listen to them. Both Bovado and Castellano spoke through an interpreter.

“We were so shocked to hear how our collegiate gear was made. We are very proud of PSU for taking the right step,” said Sagarika Badyal, a first-year engineering student at PSU. She noticed that “we never really think about the fact that we have no idea where our clothes are made; for all we know they could be the product of child labor.”

Nakul Bagla, a business administration first-year at Carnegie Mellon, said, “I love to go shopping and buy new clothes, but I rarely inquire about where and how these clothes are made.”

Roger Rouse, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon, teaches a course about globalization that makes students question the integrity of some textile producers. Jake Arakal, a junior materials science and biomedical engineering double major, remembers sitting in one of Rouse’s classes thinking about the issue of textile production.

“Rouse made us check the tags on all of our clothes one day in class so we could see where they were produced. I was kind of surprised when he took a poll of the class and less than 20 people had clothes made in the United States,” Arakal said.

Sanil Shah, a CIT first-year, said, “All they say on the tags of clothes is the country they are manufactured in. However, that does not tell us a lot about the conditions of the workers that made these clothes.”

People can find out where their clothes originated by taking advantage of many organizations dedicated to this cause.

For these investigations, there are many nonprofit organizations, such as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), and others that focus on researching information about textiles manufacturing for consumers.