The Michigan Student Assembly has started an initiative that would encourage student groups to buy their apparel from unionized factories.
LSA sophomore Aria Everts and LSA senior Austin Srdjak, both members of MSA’s Peace & Justice Commission, are spearheading a campaign called “Fair Tees” to encourage all campus groups to purchase their T-shirts from factories that set high ethical and environmental standards.
Groups like Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality have criticized the University for ordering University-licensed apparel from factories found to have used unethical labor practices.
Everts said her main concern with traditional factories was the environmental harm they inflict by using unsafe dyes and inorganically grown cotton, along with having dangerous working conditions and low wages for employees.
“It’s about environmental justice and basic human rights,” Everts said. On top of that, she said, “You’re telling the big guys that you really care and that you are willing to spend more.”
The Fair Tees program is featured on SOLE’s website, saying that the program identifies “factories where we know the workers have a safe workplace, receive benefits, and are treated with dignity.”
Everts and Srdjak began planning the program in September and have contacted more than 160 groups on campus since then. Everts said she and Srdjak have spoken to representatives of a few of them and have gotten positive responses. They plan to hold a mass meeting tomorrow to explain the program to student group representatives and respond to any questions or concerns.
“The main concern of a student organization is how pricy it’ll be,” Everts said. “It costs more to have environmental standards and human rights.”
Fair Tees is promoting what organizers say are two ethically and environmentally sound outlets for groups to purchase shirts. Shirts with screen-printing from Justice Clothing, a United States-based distributor, cost about $10, while organic shirts from the Nueva Vida
Women’s Sewing Cooperative, based in Nicaragua, will cost about $13. Conventionally manufactured shirts can cost less than $5.
The organizers of Fair Tees plan to minimize the added cost by buying the shirts in bulk. The organizers also plan to place orders to Nueva Vida in batches of at least 300 to minimize shipping costs, Everts said.
Some groups have already ordered shirts from Justice Clothing, which costs less for smaller orders because it’s based in the U.S. The Detroit Coalition, an alliance of organizations closely associated with the Detroit Project, started ordering shirts from Justice Clothing last month, said LSA senior Megan Hanner, the coalition’s founder.
The group purchased the shirts for about $7 and sold them for $10. She said the group was willing to pay more than that.
Srdjak said only a few student groups have placed orders since the program’s inception because the majority of apparel orders are made in the fall.
The Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition, which ordered conventionally manufactured shirts last year, plans to buy about 400 shirts through the Fair Tees program next year, said School of Music, Theatre and Dance senior Andrew Munn, the co-chair of the group’s steering committee.
Everts said she hopes that other organizations – especially those that usually order many T-shirts like the Greek system, residence hall councils and academic departments – will follow the Sustainability Coalition’s lead.
“People can be convinced it is important if they see other people are taking an interest in it,” she said.
Some student groups, though, will likely stick with traditional apparel-ordering options. LSA junior Justin Zatkoff, chairman of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans, said the price of the shirts will still be an overriding factor for many student groups.
“We should never boycott workers in a third world country who might be starving otherwise,” he said. “Whoever gives me the best price is who I would go for. Let the free market decide.”