As students campaign to support fair labor practices, they must realize the road will be long and may come to a dead end.
When Claire Wiklund, a sophomore, traveled to the Dominican Republic and discovered severe labor abuse in factories there, she was shocked to discover Tech has been placing orders for apparel made at the same types of factories.
After the issue was brought to light, Tech has placed orders with the newly significant Alta Gracia, a fair labor factory that operates under Worker Rights Consortium standards. These standards ensure fair pay, allow the formation of unions, emphasize safe working conditions and maintain the low costs universities rely on to balance the books.
Unfortunately, only one order has been placed and sales of the new line of apparel will determine if the partnership will continue.
This is a tough sell, considering the large national brand Tech possesses and that Alta Gracia products are likely only to be found in the University Bookstore.
The impact only reaches so far from one selling location, but perhaps the biggest obstacle to making Tech a full-fledged supporter of fair labor practices is the university's partnership with Nike.
Nike is no stranger to the fair labor arena. For years, the iconic corporation has been criticized for relying on cheap international labor to cut costs. It is not uncommon to purchase a pair of shoes for $150 made by workers getting paid just a few dollars a day.
For the last few decades, Nike has denied these practices, and the corporation has gone further to shed the negative perception. Many of their tactics point toward more legitimate manufacturing processes than in the past, including frequent inspections, audits of poorly performing factories, and Fair Labor Association permissions to inspect whenever necessary.
It is worth noting, however, that Nike does not support the WRC, and there is vast speculation about the legitimacy of the FLA's monitoring practices.
The money behind the Tech-Nike partnership carries the biggest stick. The most recent contract between the two parties is worth $9.7 million for Tech's athletic department over eight years. With five years left on the contract, and Tech's continued national prominence and brand recognition, this partnership is unlikely to end any time soon.
Apart from Nike, Tech apparel is also made by Under Armour, which subsidizes manufacturing projects to third parties in Asia and Mexico, and Champion, a HanesBrands affiliate. In 2011, HanesBrands was linked to lobbying efforts to make sure the minimum wage in Haiti, where many of their products are made, remained 31 cents per hour instead of the proposed 61 cents per hour to keep cost low.
So while the effort is surely a necessary one, and all students should be supportive, what are some of our most dedicated supporters to do in the face of Nike and their competitors?
The intent is noble and endearing. Fair labor practices are more than deserving of the student body's support, especially from a student body that prides itself on the principles of Ut Prosim. But deep, green pockets with national, even international, recognition are hard to ignore.
It is like defending the Alamo. The fight will be valiant, but likely nothing more than a lost cause.