On a foggy Tuesday morning, the students in the class “Globalization and Its Critics”, watch a video produced by NPR revealing the harsh reality of worker exploitation in “far-away” countries. Suddenly, the banana on our desk was not innocent. It was picked by somebody who is not being given proper medical care to deal with the chemicals used in daily harvest. The phones in our pockets lose fascination as we learn they have been produced by people working 20-hour shifts with no bathroom breaks.
The video ends and we are presented with a question, “Where does your Lafayette shirt come from?” Check your tag. We asked ourselves individually, but did we think to ask the institution, which provides us with our beloved “Lehigh Sucks” shirts? No.
A class of 30 students have come together as part of the International Affairs program to write a letter, co-signed by over 40 campus organizations, to President Byerly, urging for a solution:
“The Workers Rights Consortium is a group seeking justice for workers without a voice. There are 171 universities affiliated with the Workers Rights Consortium, an organization that conducts investigations into factories that produce shirts bearing college or university logos in order to ensure that labor abuses are put to an end and worker’s rights are being followed… How better to impact the world than to start from our own campus? We request that Lafayette College become an affiliate member of the Workers Rights Consortium…”
While the WRC may only investigate issues within the factories, the problem, however, is endemic all along supply chains. Regarding clothes, a supply chain can begin from the moment the cotton is picked to transportation to the workers who make the shirts we wear today. Supply chains are a form of globalization found in the Lafayette shirt you wear, as the shirt may be connected to the nimble fingers of a Honduran child or to an eldery Chinese woman who sewed it thousands of miles away. Someone is getting the short end of the stick, and it is not us. The exploitation of workers is a real issue and so long as we continue to consume Lafayette apparel, we implicitly support it.
Our hope is to enact serious change in creating ethical and sustainable production of our Lafayette apparel. Hopefully, as we take our seats at the next Laf-Lehigh game, the Lafayette sweaters we wear will have been made by somebody being paid a fair wage and working in ethical conditions. We may have won Laf-Lehigh this year, but it will be a bigger win if we as an institution take a stand against the exploitation of workers’ rights. Then, we can wear our Lafayette shirts loud and proud.
So, do you want to win?
Written by Lulu Kirtchuk ’21