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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Behold, the fruit of a bitter loom”

    Oscar Wilde wrote a children’s story over one hundred years ago in which a young prince, on the eve of his coronation to be king, has a series of dreams wherein he visits each of the places where his divinely instituted tokens of royalty are made. The teenage prince is understandably terrified in each instance of witnessing how his privilege is hoisted on the downtrodden shoulders of the miserable.

    Who could have guessed that in our own time – well beyond the uncivilized age of kings, upon the magnanimous throne of democracy – similar kinds of degradation and stark inhumanity would arrive stitched with the bold UA colors of red, white and blue?

    Last night, the UA community learned of the human effects of the policies we represent, having come face-to-face with two Honduran workers, Norma Estela Mejia Castellanos and Mirna Lizeth Chavarria Lopez, who, hosted by the national organization United Students Against Sweatshops, visited campus for a spectrum of events with local media, the public, and the UA administration to tell their story of abuse and exploitation at the hands of Russell Athletic, a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, Inc., which has a half-million dollar contract with the UA, according to Frank Farias, director of the UA Bookstore.

    In late January, Russell closed Jerzeez de

    Honduras, the factory at which Castellanos and Lopez worked, after inflicting a string of anti-union and labor abuses, detailed in a recent report by the Workers Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring group with nearly 200 university members, including the UA.

    During a telephone conference call from Choloma, Honduras, this past Thursday, I asked Norma and Mirna about some of the conditions in the Russell factory. They explained that, with unpaid overtime and a workday upwards of 11 hours, Russell imposed a bitter quota equivalent of 665 dozen UA sweatshirts in a week, during which time each worker’s weekly salary was equal to one sweatshirt’s retail price ($42). Mirna further recalls, “”When I worked there…I had a cist in my breast. …I couldn’t…get the medical care, because the company has a policy where if you left to go get medical care, they would take you out of your team. That was their way of punishing you for trying to look for medical care. …So because of that, I didn’t take care of my medical needs. And now my problem is that my breast has become enlarged. And now what does this mean? …And now that I’m left without work, there’s no way I can afford a breast exam. It’s very expensive in my country.””

    At a backroom meeting today between the workers, students, faculty and the administration, President Shelton asked a good question of Norma and Mirna: “”how can we have the biggest influence on Russell?”” Their reply was: “”By cutting your contract with them.””

    In outlining the principles instituted to protect workers from particular abuses such as the above – along with virtually every other possible violation that Russell could (and did) commit – the UA Labor Code of Conduct states that our university is pledged “”to conducting (its) business affairs in a socially responsible and ethical manner consistent with (our) respective educational, research and/or service missions, and to protecting and preserving the global environment.””

    Yet a critical person would ask what these presumably benevolent “”missions”” of ours are. According to the UA Web site, our campus’ own workforce is employed to “”improve the human condition”” while aiming ultimately “”to enrich communities around the state and around the world.”” Powerful words. I’m reminded of a passage in the Bible – one of it’s finer ones – “”beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”” In other words, judge people and their institutions not by their pretty, dolled up words, but rather judge them by their actions.

    In this case, not only can we judge the ironically titled company “”Fruit of the Loom”” by its actions, but we must judge ourselves by how we act (or fail to act) under the burdens of guilt and responsibility that we carry in this case.

    It is key market institutions like ours that fund these companies. Without our support, companies such as Fruit of the Loom, Coca-Cola and others who have direct ties to the depraved social conditions in which their products are made – by way of the maximization of profit and industry of wage slavery – would not be able to operate.

    The UA Faculty Senate Task Force for Monitoring Labor and Human Rights Issues, according to UA Law Professor and Task Force member Andy Silverman, has been briefing Shelton about Russell’s abusive anti-union activities over the past year. The Task Force’s latest recommendation, made in a meeting at which I was present, is to terminate our contract with Russell.

    Particularly now, the question is, how long Castellanos, Lopez and the other thousands of workers will wait before we choose to act by showing Russell and other companies that honorable ethical and legal codes are not paper tigers? Otherwise, our so-called “”Labor Code of Conduct”” is something of a feeble tissue (like a sheep’s cloth) that any of us may take into the toilet and flush, along with our humanity and any measurable form of decency, liberty and law.

    Quotes from Norma and Mirna were taken from a conference call conducted on Thursday April 9 and were translated verbatim by Gladys Cisneros, affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops.

    -ÿGabriel Matthew Schivone is a junior majoring in art, literature, and media studies. He is the Operations Director of Sweatshop-Free Coalition.

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