Austin
4:47 pm
Fri April 29, 2011

Students Occupy University of Texas President's Office

Six students occupied the office of University of Texas at Austin president Bill Powers, protesting what they say are "sweatshop conditions" in which Longhorns clothing is manufactured.

"We have been asking for this affiliation for a very long time, so we are currently in the president's office, waiting for him to come back and talk to us," UT undergraduate student Carson Chavana told KUT News.

Chavana says students and community members have been lobbying the university for eleven years to affiliate with the Workers Right's Consortium (WRC), an independent labor rights monitoring organization whose goal is combating sweatshops.   The WRC currently has affiliations with 180 colleges and universities.

The University of Texas has been affiliated with a similar organization, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), since 1999. FLA says it seeks to "end sweatshop labor and improve working conditions in factories worldwide."

But members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free campaign say FLA lacks the same transparency standards as the WRC.

Students were granted a meeting with President Powers at 2:30 p.m. today to make their case for UT to switch from FLA to the WRC. Chavana says President Powers heard their concerns but did not commit to making a decision today.

"We told him that we don't feel the urgency of this issue is shared by him, and we plan to stay in his office for as long as it takes to continue negotiation," she said.

Neither the office of President Powers nor the University of Texas at Austin had any statement on the protest when contacted by KUT News this afternoon. 

The UT chapter of Oxfam posted a letter from President Powers on its website earlier this year, in which Powers says that "representatives from the University make trips periodically to factories to observe the conditions first hand."

"I believe continued affiliation with the FLA is the most effective way for the University to proceed," Powers wrote.

The University of Texas Students Against Sweatshops have held multiple protests on the issue. Last May, students stripped to their underwear in the West Mall, holding signs that said, "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Sweatshop Apparel."

Sports Illustrated reported last summer that the University of Texas leads the nation in total athletic revenue with more than $138 million amassed in 2008, the most recent year for which numbers were available.