Does New York State and the University of Rochester support sweatshop labor? If they aren’t actively acting to support workers rights in the companies they purchase from, then yes, they are supporting sweatshop labor.
The reality of this came close to home as workers in sweatshops in Honduras and Haiti came to Rochester to share their experiences. We heard about work done for Adidas and Gildan. Telemarque Pierre a factory worker and union leader involved in the worker organization Batay Ouvriye told us about Gildan’s refusal to pay the required minimum wage and how they fired workers for union activity. Especially difficult to share were the stories of pregnant women being forced to work up until the day of birth.
Another worker from Honduras, Raquel Navarro, shared her experiences of bad working conditions, low pay, and at times violently hostile attitude towards unions. Despite the intimidation and targeted layoffs of union leaders her and her co-workers continue to be part of a fight for worker justice in Honduras and the international apparel industry.
An organizer with Batay Ouvriye, Yannick Etienne, also spoke about the ongoing work of garment workers throughout the Caribbean to organize a network of unions internationally and the importance of international worker solidarity. She highlighted the ways that consumers in the United States also have a particularly strong ability to act in solidarity with workers around the world, but that this doesn’t mean blanket boycotts. Instead, it means listening to the workers on the ground in an equal relationship of solidarity.
The international guests were joined by Casey Sweeney from United Students Against Sweatshops and Liana Foxvog from Sweatfree Communities to give to ways that we can act in solidarity with the workers present. Liana spoke about the need to pressure New York State to pass a clear code of conduct for the standards they expect in their purchasing. Casey spoke about how the University of Rochester should join the Worker Rights Consortium to ensure that collegiate apparel isn’t supporting sweatshop labor, something that students in the UR Students for a Democratic Society seemed interested in pushing the University to do.
Shortly after this tour stop, our Organizing Director Colin, was on the Channel 13 show Many Voices, Many Visions. The two parts of this interview can be watched below: