The ethics of wearing green and gold

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March 13, 2017

10:20 PM

When you walk into the Barnes & Noble in Williamsburg, do you ever wonder how clothing companies such as Under Armour or Nike produce apparel with the William and Mary cypher and name? Has it ever occurred to you to wonder what determines which clothing is sold through the College, or who made the products on display?

I’ve been passionate about social justice issues in the manufacturing industry since high school. But I didn’t know the answers to these questions or about William and Mary’s commitment to ethical manufacturing until a professor told me about the Committee on Social Responsibility in Manufacturing. Now a part of the Committee, I’m proud to say that my school holds the same standards for consumption that I try to hold for myself.

The Committee on Social Responsibility in Manufacturing is composed of students, faculty and administrators dedicated to seeing ethical labor practices upheld by the College and its affiliates.

The Committee on Social Responsibility in Manufacturing is composed of students, faculty and administrators dedicated to seeing ethical labor practices upheld by the College and its affiliates. We work to maintain the relationship between William and Mary and their licensers, ensuring that any brands that display the school’s name and logo adhere to a certain ethical standard.

The standard is set by the Worker Rights Consortium, which conducts research into companies’ manufacturing processes, reports on the factories of major brands, and works directly with employees to protect their rights. These rights include the right to join a movement, to be paid for overtime work, to have a safe and healthy workplace environment and to earn lawful wages.

The CLC serves as the middle man between college partners and their merchandising brands, guaranteeing that any clothing brands that want to use William and Mary’s name and imagery legally must first go through a vetting process.

Protection of these rights are enforced by the College Licensing Company to which William and Mary belongs. I was happy to learn that this affiliation is not a requirement for universities, which means William and Mary is actively committed to defending employee rights. The CLC serves as the middle man between college partners and their merchandising brands, guaranteeing that any clothing brands that want to use William and Mary’s name and imagery legally must first go through a vetting process.

So what can we, as college students, do to act against labor abuse and exploitation? While it is good that William and Mary is taking steps to provide ethical product choices, there is a level of responsibility on us: the consumer. Ever wonder why that shirt you bought after searching online for “cheap William and Mary apparel” was only $10? Or why the College asks that student organizations buy gear through approved vendors?

Because William and Mary has a strict licensing program, and buying through licensed vendors is one way that you can defend the rights of workers. Clothing items that were made by companies who value their employees cost more because they pay fair wages and ensure safe working conditions. For those intramural teams, student clubs or Greek organizations buying apparel from a separate website, it is worth looking deeper into the vendor’s policies.

You can also purposefully support companies that go above and beyond to protect the rights of their employees. League Collegiate Outfitters is one such company found in our bookstore. League is actively committed to ethical labor practices and social consciousness. They have developed a program that cares for workers with disabilities, they give jobs to the homeless and ex-incarcerated, and they provide loans at a fair rate to employees. Through ensuring a safe and healthy work environment and choosing to sell to vendors that ensure the same, League is practicing business that focuses on people over profit.

By asking questions about how our clothes are made and purchasing from companies that protect the rights of their employees, we are making a conscious decision to honor the exchange between the clothes we wear and the hands of the person who made them.

William and Mary spirit wear is a simple place to start, but these practices can extend into all of our purchases. By asking questions about how our clothes are made and purchasing from companies that protect the rights of their employees, we are making a conscious decision to honor the exchange between the clothes we wear and the hands of the person who made them.

Email Phebe Meyer at [email protected] with questions about labor practices, the Committee, or your involvement.

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  • Phebe Meyer

(1) Reader Comment

  1. cecilyk
    March 14, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    Sending you lots of love from League! Thank you. :)

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