Cornell Students Against Sweatshops lauded for campaign

On behalf of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops, Alex Bores '13 will accept a Sol Stetin Award Nov. 18 from the American Labor Museum. Bores is president of Cornell's chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, the national organization that convinced hundreds of colleges to feature a clothing brand made by workers in the Dominican Republic who are paid fair wages.

Alta Gracia hoodies and T-shirts are now available at The Cornell Store and on other campuses.

Citing unfair labor practices, Cornell Students Against Sweatshops earlier this year petitioned the university to end its contracts with Nike. More than 1,000 students signed the petition. Dozens of student groups, The Cornell Daily Sun and the University Assembly also criticized Nike's labor practices.

In July, after Cornell and other universities threatened to terminate contracts with Nike for college-logo apparel, the company agreed to establish a $1.5 million fund to assist 1,800 Hondurans who lost their jobs in factory closings.

Two of those workers, Gina Lowlee and Maritza Vargas, visited Cornell in November and met with Cornell administrators to discuss apparel purchasing and worker issues, Bores said.

"I believe that individuals should not have to work 16-hour days in order to feed their children," Bores said. "Yet, that is the reality for many low-wage workers in the developing world. I am excited to do anything I can to change that."

Pressure on colleges has been building toward a more just apparel industry for a decade, he said in an interview. United Students Against Sweatshops demanded corporations disclose factory locations and urged colleges and universities to buy from companies that uphold minimum labor standards, Bores said.

The group helped found the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent apparel-factory monitoring agency. It identified labor violations that led many colleges to reject products made by Nike and Russell Athletics.

The Alta Gracia factory, Bores said, shows that companies can pay workers a living wage and still make a profit.

Bores will accept the honor in Haledon, N.J., where the labor museum is located, at the 28th Annual Sol Stetin Awards.

The award is named for union organizer Sol Stetin. He was 95 when he died in 2005.

Mary Catt is a staff writer for the ILR School.

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