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Students’ union presses for sweatshop-free zone

NANAIMO – Vancouver Island University's student union is asking the institution to become a sweatshop clothing-free zone.

Vancouver Island University’s students’ union is hoping that the post-secondary educational institution will become a sweatshop clothing-free zone.

Inspired in part by the fatal garment factory collapse in Bangladesh last April – where more than 1,000 deaths and more than 2,500 injuries were reported – the union embarked on a two-part campaign with the hopes that the university will approve an ethical purchasing policy and join labour rights watchdog Worker Rights Consortium, according to campaign organizer Patrick Barbosa.

The Bangladesh factory provided clothing to North America, including Loblaw Companies Ltd.’s Joe Fresh line, and it is the hope of the students’ union that all clothing provided at the university is not purchased from similar places, whether from India or North America.

“We know that in the bookstore, the university does a fairly decent job ensuring that the majority, if not all items, sold out of the bookstore are sweatshop-free and that’s largely because of pressure from other universities across North America,” Barbosa said.

More than 193 North American universities are part of the Worker Rights Consortium, including Yale, Princeton, McMaster and Queen’s.

Barbosa said the students’ union doesn’t know from where the university gets staff uniforms, nursing student smocks or gear for athletes.

“We would like to see the university participate and provide a fairly small membership contribution to ensure that there’s the opportunity to certify factories that are providing ethical employment,” Barbosa said.

No one from the university was able to comment by press time but communications manager Janina Stajic did say the university is supportive of the students’ union and has supported a number of union initiatives in the past.

“We have a good relationship with the students’ union,” she said. “We appreciate the work that they do on behalf of the students.”

As part of the campaign, members will be seeking to collect signatures from a minimum of 2,000 people on campus by the end of the spring semester, with the aim of presenting the petition to the board.

Two hundred people had signed as of Thursday afternoon.

Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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