Redefining the term sweatshop

SPEAK, an organization on campus that calls for justice, is redefining the term sweatshop. An item of clothing made in another country is not necessarily made in a sweatshop.

“I was using the term ‘sweatshop’ without a clear definition in mind, because there is no clear-cut, agreed upon definition,” Jeremiah Barker said. Barker is a sophomore history major and a member of SPEAK.

“When I hear sweatshop, I hear stories about factory abuses to their workers such as lack of compensation for injuries and below average pay for factory profit,” said Robert Hornak, a junior marketing major.

Michelle Katzman, a sophomore elementary education major said, “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of [a] sweatshop is people being kept bound to horrible jobs for unfair pay.”

Follett Higher Education Group, the company that owns the Eastern bookstore and is known on campus as Efollett, states that they do not support such facilities.

Follett has all vendors sign the Vendor Labor Code of Conduct, which specifies conditions that are allowed or prohibited in factories. This document sets standards regarding wages and benefits, health and safety, and human rights.

In addition, it designates a specific age for workers at factories around the world to which vendors must comply. “Workers can be no less than 14 years of age and not younger than the compulsory age to be in school in the country where the work is to be performed,” states the Vendor Labor Code of Conduct.

According to the Follett Key Messages on the Vendor Labor Code of Conduct, factories have been monitored in the countries of “the United States, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, Pakistan and Fiji.” This document does not specify the dates of monitoring.

Cliff Ewert, the vice president of media relations and chief compliance officer for the Follett Vendor Labor Code of Conduct, acknowledged the injustice in sweatshops throughout the world. “We conducted 10 monitoring visits this summer in the countries of El Salvador, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Vietnam, Columbia,” Ewert said in an e-mail. According to Ewert, if a factory is suspected of using unethical working conditions, the factory is monitored and actions include possible termination of the vendor from Follett.

Ewert explained that Follett serves about 900 college campuses and the brands pulled from stores are not affiliated with Eastern. The five brand names available in the Eastern bookstore have no evidence of violations, according to Ewert. These brand names include Jansport, Russell Athletic, Weatherproof Co., Champion and League.

Sweatshops operate under a broad range of conditions with an unclear definition. “Because the clothing manufacturers do not consider the conditions in which they make their clothes as being under the category of sweatshop conditions, and can legitimately deny using sweatshops, I have decided I will not use the term ‘sweatshop’ in public anymore,” Barker said.

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