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Sweatshops

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Yenny Perez, left, and Maritza Vargas, right, speak to LSU students through an interpreter Thursday night. (Photo credit: Gordon Brillon) Yenny Perez, left, and Maritza Vargas, right, speak to LSU students through an interpreter Thursday night. (Photo credit: Gordon Brillon)

By Gordon Brillon | LSU Student

Two former sweatshop workers are urging LSU students to organize in opposition to the use of sweatshop labor to make athletic logo wearing apparel for universities.

Yenny Perez and Maritza Vargas, both of the Dominican Republic, took turns speaking through an interpreter to describe obstacles facing sweatshop workers and their battle to unionize Thursday evening in the LSU Student Union.

Event organizers say LSU is not saying where it obtains its logo clothing, but it is reasonable to assume some of it comes from sweatshops.

They underscored that help from outside organizations, such as United Students Against Sweatshops and the Worker Rights Consortium, was essential to their efforts.

The WRC also affiliates with universities across the country. LSU dissolved its affiliation with the WRC in 2011, absolving it from following the WRC's guidelines for responsible production of apparel, said Amy Kessel, an organizer for Solidarity Ignite.

Kessel said that though it is hard to say precisely where LSU's merchandise is produced, the fact that the university removed itself from WRC guidelines before breaking ties raises some questions.

"Given the standards of the global garment industry, it wouldn't be a stretch to think that some LSU merchandise is created in bad environments," Kessel said.

"We knew there were labor laws in the Dominican Republic, and international labor laws through the U.N., that supported our cause," Vargas said. "But all the other workers who tried to organize had been fired."

When conditions at the factory Perez and Vargas worked, Alta Gracia Factory in Villa Altagracia, became untenable, the Worker Rights Consortium stepped in to assist, Vargas said, adding that previous labor watchdog groups had been corrupt and complicit with factory owners.

The Worker Rights Consortium is a non-profit organization that provides independent review of labor conditions worldwide. Vargas said the WRC cooperated with local government officials, factory workers and advocacy groups to pressure Alta Gracia owners into improving conditions in the factory.

"It was the difference between heaven and earth," Vargas said.

She said since the reforms at Alta Gracia, she has been able to live with her family every day of the week, move into a more comfortable home, and send several of her children to college.

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